In St. Paris, Ohio, a town of 2,000 people, Graham High School Athletic Director Brook Cupps finds himself repeatedly asking the same businesses for donations. Not wanting to tap that well too many times, he reached out to the program's wrestling alumni, who provided a $500,000 loan to cover the cost of a new athletic building.
by Kyle Garratt
For years, Graham High School in St. Paris, Ohio, has fielded one of the strongest wrestling teams in the country. There's a lot of pride in the Falcons, who have taken the 10 straight state titles, so when the athletic building was torn down as part of larger renovations to the school, Athletic Director Brook Cupps knew where to turn.
"First, we targeted the people who are most connected to the history of our wrestling program because they're the ones who saw their athletic building being torn down," says Cupps. "You're talking about a school that has won a bunch of state wrestling titles, so our alumni are passionate about wrestling. They jumped on board and helped promote it."
Next, he had to convince the school board to build the new facility while the rest of the school was still being renovated. "The old building had served us since 1971," Cupps told the board. "It had been our locker room, athletic training room, wrestling practice room, and weight room. Now that it's gone, where are we supposed to go? Our weight room has been shifted to a classroom with about 600 square feet. And at this level, trying to compete without a weight room isn't realistic."
Cupps knew the school district couldn't afford to fund the new facility, but the school's booster club was willing to extend a helping hand. A few club members took out a $500,000, 10-year loan from a local bank for the construction costs. The new facility was finished in mid-November, and Cupps hopes to pay off the debt in five years.
So far, he has helped raise about $200,000, mostly through donations from alumni and community members, and a few corporate sponsors. The building is centered on the wrestling room, which can also hold physical education classes and cheerleading practices. It also features football and track and field locker rooms, coaches' office, and an athletic training room.
Early success has come from personal connections. Several booster club members bought $30,000 worth of weight lifting equipment. Two community members agreed to donate $10,000 a year for the next five years. Cupps says the construction would have cost $650,000, but a local contractor with ties to the wrestling team donated materials, worked at a discounted rate, and convinced sub-contractors to do the same.
"It's really been word of mouth and personal connections with those who have an interest in our athletic program, that have been the biggest success for us," says Cupps. "If people understand it's going to benefit something they're proud of, like our wrestling program, they're willing to donate the money."
Donors are recognized in the new building by having their names displayed on banners. There are seven levels at which people can donate, ranging from $100 to $250,000 or more, and each level has its own banner. For additional funds, Cupps plans to hold a golf tournament, and he expects the athletic training service that works at the school to also donate some money. But he knows where the bread is buttered for this athletic department.
"Having wrestling as the centerpiece to the new building has been helpful because the community is solidly behind wrestling and people are willing to support it financially," he says. "The need for this facility warranted us doing everything we could to wrestle up the funds."
Kyle Garrett is an Assistant Editor at MomentumMedia Sports Publishing. He can be reached at: email@example.com.