After the kick sailed through the uprights, hundreds swarmed the field.
Kyle Barton’s last-second field goal Nov. 21 clinched the New Palestine football team’s first state finals berth since 1990 and fulfilled a yearlong promise to exact semistate revenge against Columbus East.
Kelso Stadium was pandemonium. The Dragons were euphoric.
For a special contingent of Dragons faithful, basking in the throes of victory, there was a moment where they thought, “In a small way, I am a part of this.”
Those were members of the New Palestine Athletic Booster Club. One of their recent donations to the athletics department helped to pay for part of the $7,200 worth of the home red uniforms the Dragons wore that evening.
Their connection goes beyond jerseys. The money they raised helped pave the way for the Dragons to bring home the program’s first state title.
The money collected at events such as the Wick’s Pie fundraiser helped buy the tackling dummy that Sterling Curran used to transform himself into an all-state linebacker.
The funds made by boosters working the concession stand helped purchase the blocking sleds that turned Andrew Yazel into a road-grading center.
Its reach extends beyond football. The club recently assisted in buying tennis nets, gymnastic mats and boys basketball warm-ups.
Volunteers make up booster groups across Hancock County, all of which play just as pivotal role in the success, growth and sustainability of their schools’ athletics programs.
Without them, Eastern Hancock athletics director and boys basketball coach Aaron Spaulding said, “Well, I can’t imagine what it would be like without them.”
The big 4
Hancock County boasts four primary prep athletics booster clubs: Eastern Hancock Athletic Boosters, New Palestine Athletic Booster Club, Greenfield-Central High School Cougar Boosters and Mt. Vernon High School Athletic Booster Club. These clubs collect funds for all school sports.
Some schools also have booster or parents clubs for specific sports, such as New Palestine football’s Grid Iron Alliance and Greenfield-Central soccer’s Parents Promoting Soccer Dreams. Those clubs raise money exclusively for those respective sports.
Makeup and organization
Students’ parents make up most of the members, although alumni and members of the community at large are not discouraged from joining or remaining members and helping the cause.
Booster clubs typically are made up of fee-paying members, a board and four officers — a president, a vice president, a secretary and a treasurer. Current leaders are Greg Hall, Eastern Hancock; Melisa Duffy, New Palestine; and Rick Kennedy, Greenfield-Central. Mt. Vernon currently has no booster club president.
Hall said the role of the president is to keep the club organized. A president’s responsibilities are scheduling meetings and organizing events. Elections are conducted every one or two years, depending on the school. However, most often, a sitting office member runs unopposed, and changes usually are made only when an officer decides to step down.
How much money?
While it varies by booster club and by year, the average annual amount a school receives in donation from the booster club is $20,000 to $30,000.
There are many ways clubs raise money. Here are just a few:
- Concessions at athletics events — New Palestine’s and Mt. Vernon’s booster clubs primary fundraiser. Greenfield-Central and Eastern Hancock booster clubs do not generate funds through concessions.
- Fundraisers (golf outings, tournaments, auctions, dinners, tailgates, etc.)
- Corporate sponsorships
- Advertising in programs
- Yearly membership fees (usually ranging from $5 to $30)
Booster club spending generally goes something like this: Coaches of each sport are asked by their athletics director both what they need and what they want. Hopefully, Spaulding said, the athletics budget can cover what the coaches’ need. Most of the time, it can.
He then can take the coaches’ wants to the booster club meetings, where items will be prioritized.
“(Booster clubs) are essential for all the extra things,” Spaulding said. “Most of what we (the athletics department) spend on is what we call needed things. We have to have uniform, officials, workers at the meets, balls; things that are necessities for the sport. The booster club comes in with a lot of things that are not necessities but are important.”
Greenfield-Central: Kevin Horrigan, the school’s longtime athletics director before retiring in 2014 and a guiding force of the Cougars Boosters, expressed a firm desire to use the club’s funds to affect all Cougars’ athletes. His big idea: transportation. According to Kennedy, for the past few years most of the money raised by the club goes directly to the school’s athletics transportation budget.
“We liked the idea as soon as we heard it,” Kennedy said. “We’re not just a basketball or a football club. What we do impacts every athlete from football and basketball on down to golf and cross-country. We think defraying as much of the transportation costs for all sports is a fair and equitable way to help all of the student-athletes and parents at Greenfield-Central.”
The club saves about $1,500 to $3,000 per year, earmarked for $500 scholarships to be awarded to seniors attending college.
Eastern Hancock: Go big or go home seems to be the new motto for the Royals booster club.
“They love to buy the big things,” said Royals softball coach Sue Anderson.
She would know. She and her team reaped the rewards of one of the club’s biggest recent projects, the revamped softball and baseball dugouts, for which the club contributed about $20,000. In recent years, the club also had made significant contributions to big-ticket buys such as the new football press box ($10,000), the video board in the gym and a tennis storage facility.
Hall said the club’s recent spending is simply a result of meetings with Spaulding.
“Fortunately, those bigger requests have been spread out,” Hall said. “And in most cases we’ve able to take care of them.”
Spaulding said one of the club’s most valuable contributions is the annual subscription to football game-tape service Hudl. For $1,600, every Royals team has access to its own and opposition game films, an invaluable scouting resource.
Mt. Vernon: Due to the absence of an exclusive athletics director — the position was eliminated by the corporation three years ago during a budget crisis — during the past four years, Mt. Vernon’s booster club has “not been fully operational,” according to assistant principal and acting girls athletics director Greg Roach. He said he and athletics department personnel are working to get the club better organized, but as of now, they are mainly focused on running the concession stand and not much else.
Mt. Vernon recently approved the renewal of the overall athletics director position and expects to make a hire soon, allowing Roach and current boys athletics director Derek Shelton to return exclusively to their assistant principal roles.
As far as how booster club funds are dispersed, Roach said, “The funds the booster club raises and donates to the athletic department is put into the Mt. Vernon High School Athletic Department account. It is not earmarked or used for any specific items. The funds help with the entire operation of the athletics department and our sports.”
New Palestine: At New Palestine, athletics director Al Cooper decides how to allocate funds the boosters collect.
“He does such a great job of knowing what each team needs,” Duffy said.
For his part, Cooper meets with every coach after the season and asks for a list of items the team needs and wants. He said his job then becomes a matter of prioritizing.
“I make sure I walk away with a coach’s No. 1, and I tell them, ‘I can’t make any promises other than that I will try to work it into our budget.’ First, I’ll try to work into our athletics budget … and if I can’t fit it all in there, then I got to the boosters and see what the can provide. We try our best to meet everyone’s needs as often we can, but sometimes we I have to say, ‘Hey, wait a year, and we’ll get it done.’”
Cooper said his primary focus is on purchasing quality items. Resources are limited, and he dreads the thought of having to replace a jersey or exercise equipment because it was an inferior product.
Annual key revenue generators for Hancock’s County’s high school athletics booster clubs.
New Palestine: Concessions, $18,000.
Eastern Hancock: Corporate sponsorship on gym video board, $6,000 to $8,000.
Greenfield-Central: Drive 4 UR School $6,000, Cougar Cuisine $4,000 to $10,000
Mt. Vernon: Concessions $23,000.