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A Winning Hand

By catering to the town's high population of motorcyclists, the Cowley College (Arkansas City, Kans.) Tiger Booster Club's annual poker run has increased community support for the college while serving as a club fundraiser. This year's event had 60 poker hands drawn, and profited over $1,000.  

After starting a motorcycle safety course at Cowley College (Arkansas City, Kans.), Director of Campus Security and Public Safety Matt Stone added another item to his plate--coordinating a fundraiser for the college's athletic booster club. "Four years ago, the athletic director at the time and I started the motorcycle safety program," says Stone. "The next year, we came up with the idea of hosting a poker run. Those are popular fundraisers in this area--there are many motorcyclists here, and they're always looking for a reason to ride."

The cost to enter the poker run is $25, with a chance to win $500 for the best hand drawn, and $250 for the worst. Participants ride to five points along the route, where they draw a card from a full deck to build their hand. Typical rules for 5-card draw poker apply for determining the best and worst hand. However, rather than having rounds of betting and trading cards, the riders' hands are determined solely by their draw at each point. 

Participants are given maps with a card record on the back. Event volunteers are stationed at each of the stops to record the drawn cards on each person's sheet. When a card is drawn, the volunteer writes it on the sheet with his or her initials, and then the card is shuffled back into the deck. The fifth point serves as the final destination, where completed sheets are collected to determine the winning and losing hands.

While the event caters to motorcyclists, participants can drive a car or simply come to the ending point, which is a Pizza Hut restaurant close to the college. "There are a lot of bikers who really enjoy poker runs," Stone says. "But we want to make it fun and open to anyone, so if someone doesn't want to burn all of their vehicle's gas and just draw all five cards at the final stop, that's okay with us."

At the end, riders can get a discount lunch from Pizza Hut and look over the raffle offerings, which included over 150 items this year. Rather than having a mass drawing, the items each have a ticket container, allowing people to pick what they want to win. "We sell one raffle ticket for $1 or six for $5, so people tend to buy several," Stone says. "If they see one thing they really want, they can put all of their tickets in the hat for that. Or they can try to win several things--they get a chance to strategize."
 
Stone solicits a wide variety of raffle items from local businesses in hopes of having choices that appeal to all attendees. "I like including things for people to use, such as gift certificates from a salon or restaurant," he says. "Then I get items for the home--maybe a lawn-care gift certificate, or tools from the hardware store. I also request items like gas cards, or oil changes for vehicles. By covering those three categories, I can be pretty sure there will be something for everyone."

The first step in organizing the event is developing the route, which Stone does about six weeks before the ride. In the first two years, participants traveled about 100 miles but after they requested a longer ride, this year's route covered 150-170 miles, depending on riders' road choices to get to the assigned stops.
 
In addition to measuring the distance and time to make sure the route is doable, Stone asks businesses along the way if they would be willing to host one of the card stops. "I've never had anyone oppose the idea," he says. "But I want to make sure we aren't going to be an inconvenience for them or their regular customers.
 
"I look at the parking lots too, since it isn't ideal for motorcycles to park on gravel," Stone continues. "It's also great if the riders can go inside and enjoy air conditioning while they drink a bottle of water. If the business doesn't have those options, I look for shade they could sit under before getting back on the road."
 
Next, Stone approaches businesses in town, and along the route, to see if they would be willing to donate to the raffle. "The entry fees help offset the cost of our cash prizes, but the raffle does most of the fundraising," he says. "Aside from the $750 for prizes, we really don't have many expenses, so it's great that the raffle items are donated, which makes them all profit."
 
The booster club publicizes the event by sending notices to the local newspapers and radio stations, while Stone posts notices on motorcycling Web sites. Flyers are also printed and taken to motorcycle shops, gas stations, and local businesses. "About three weeks before the event, I start picking up the raffle items," Stone says. "When I do that, I ask if I can post a flyer."
 
On the morning of the ride, registration begins at 8:00 at the college, and riders can leave between 8:30 and 9:30. After all the riders are on the road, the booster club sends someone to bring up the rear and make sure no one gets stranded or lost.
 
Riders start arriving at Pizza Hut around 11:30, and the last rider must be back by 12:30. "We can't have too much leniency on that," Stone says. "It wouldn't be fair to make everyone wait a couple of hours while someone's out joy-riding. Since we're in Kansas, we try to start and finish early so we aren't out when it gets above 100-degrees in the afternoon.

"Everyone seems to appreciate that," he continues. "They all have a good time, and I try to make sure everyone leaves with a smile on their face and something in their hand. The motorcycling community is very generous. If you give them a reason to come, and make sure it's a good time, they'll come back and support your cause every time."



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