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Winging It

In North Schyulkill, Pa., a booster club's third annual Wingfest helped save the junior high softball team from budget cuts.

Three years ago, the North Schyulkill (Pa.) Lady Spartans Softball Booster Club began a Wingfest fundraiser to pay for extra items for the team. "In the first year, we wanted to have a formal banquet for the team instead of a picnic," says booster club president Trish Lapotsky. "The second year, we raised money to buy warm-up suits, playing pants, and equipment bags for all of the players."

This year, however, the booster club's efforts became much more important when it learned the junior high team was no longer going to be funded. "Unfortunately, we were going to lose our seventh and eighth grade team completely, so our priorities had to change. We needed to raise money to save the team--$3,500."

In response, the club stepped it up this year, and reached its mark, with a profit of $3,600 from the Wingfest. "When I went out to recruit vendors for this year's event, I told them that the Wingfest was funding the junior high program, because it would be cut otherwise," Lapotsky says. "People wanted to help. If they know the reason, they want to give."

The club originally got the idea for the Wingfest--an event where attendees purchase a ticket, which allows them to sample wings from local vendors--from a Kiwanis club in a neighboring county. "It was a new idea for our area," Lapotsky says. "The planning was simple, because I attended the one in Luzerne County. As soon as we walked out, I said, 'We could do this!' The first year, the hardest part of planning it was finding a facility."

But the boosters eventually found a venue that has now worked well for three years. A local country club allows the softball parents to use its facility for free, with the country club making money from opening up its bar. "Because this is a high school event, we didn't want any involvement with the sale of alcohol," Lapotsky says. "We told the owner that he could sell alcohol at the event, since it goes well with wings, but we didn't want any of the money from it. So that's how he is compensated for the use of the facility. And since the softball players and parent volunteers clear the tables, he doesn't have to bring in his wait-staff."

There were 13 vendors competing against each other at this year's Wingfest. Each donated approximately 275 chicken wings, their sauce, and the labor involved with preparing them. "They get something out of it, though," Lapotsky says. "They have over 200 people trying their wings in one day. Some of these people might not have gone to their establishment before, so if they try the wings and like them, then the restaurant has a new customer. Over time, that will repay them more than anything they could have done through marketing."

Tickets for this year's event were sold for $12. When they arrived at the Wingfest, the 250 attendees were each given four plates to use. The plates had separate sections, with a vendor's number on each space. This ensured that each person only was given one wing from each vendor. After trying all of the wings, the attendees voted for the "People's Choice Award."
 
Other awards were also given in various categories. Lapotsky recruited local celebrities including the school superintendent, radio personalities, TV reporters, and former Schyulkill softball player Jen Yuengling (brew-master for Schyulkill County's Yuengling beer,) to act as official tasters. "We had seven judges, and they voted on the hottest, the best overall, and the most unique," Lapotsky says. "It was important that we had judges who would be fair.
"For us, it's just about having fun and raising money for our club," she continues. "But the vendors have a stake in winning. I was in with the judges, so I was able to see that they took their duty very seriously."
 
The Wingfest also features a local DJ who donates his services to the club. "He's phenomenal," Lapotsky says. "He's very upbeat and keeps things going every year. The week before the event, he usually calls to ask the players what songs are popular with their group. He gets them pumped up for the event."
 
Additionally, the club held a raffle and a 50-50 at the event, which raised about $1,000. "Each of the players donates $5 and that gets put together to start a 50-50 lottery," Lapotsky says. "Then we usually have about 15 items that are donated for the raffle. We don't want to go much bigger than that because it's not our main focus for the event."
 
To attract an audience for the event, the boosters advertise heavily. "The first year it was advertised through a local TV station that runs a community bulletin board 24 hours a day," Lapotsky says. "The last two years we've put it in the community advertising section of the newspaper. The radio DJ who was a judge also talked it up on-air quite a bit this year. Having people hear about it really helps boost excitement about the event."


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