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Saving Sports

Eight weeks after losing their entire athletics budget, boosters at Saugerties (N.Y.) High School raised the $300,000 they needed to preserve the program.


By Kenny Berkowitz


On May 25, after voters in Saugerties, N.Y., overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to increase taxes, the Board of Education adopted an austerity budget that eliminated 32 teaching positions, 22 other district jobs, and all extracurricular activities--including Saugerties High School's 38 athletic teams. That was bad news for Athletics Director Lee Molyneaux, but the next day revealed a silver lining: If the booster club could raise $150,000 before August 1, an anonymous donor would match it with a $150,000 check to keep the program alive.


With only two months to reach their target, boosters hit the ground running. "It was a staggering amount of money to raise," says Molyneaux. "I started by calling an emergency meeting of the booster club, where 150 parents showed up, and all of us scrambled to come up with ideas."


They quickly decided on a series of fundraisers, including a reptile and wildlife show (July 2), a New York Yankees baseball game (July 3), an all-you-can-eat breakfast (July 11), a youth volleyball camp (July 12-16), a comedy show (July 18), and a combination dinner, dance, and auction (July 24). For the next eight weeks, the booster club met every Wednesday night, with new people stepping up to volunteer each time. By the second week of July, they'd raised close to $80,000, and by the third week, Molyneaux felt they'd turned a corner.


"When we started, I really wanted to believe we would succeed, but I had my doubts," he says. "We'd estimated how much money each event would bring, and as the weeks went by, some made more and some made less than we'd hoped. Then, within a one-week span, we received enough donations to put us over $100,000. We knew the dinner/auction was coming on July 24, and if it was as successful as we hoped, we'd meet our goal."


It was, and they did. With tickets selling for $60 per person or $100 per couple and hundreds of items donated for the live and silent auctions, boosters raised $43,000 in one night. That brought their eight-week total to $160,000, with two more events still to come: a pig roast and raffle with a top prize of $10,000 on August 28 and a second trip to Yankee Stadium on August 31.


By then, football will have been practicing for two weeks, followed shortly afterward by the program's modified, j.v., and varsity teams. For Molyneaux, the lesson is clear. "Always be prepared for the worst-case scenario, and hope you never you never have to go through it," he says. "No matter how good things look, nobody is untouchable, including you and me.


"Everybody was shocked when sports were completely eliminated, and I still can't believe how much money was raised in such a short period of time--but it was," he continues. "Start to finish, it's been an amazing process that's shown just how important athletics are to this community, and how hard people are willing to work to restore a critical part of the educational process."



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