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COLUMBUS North athletics director Jeff Hester pondered his growing role of fundraiser as competing programs pour money into facilities and resources to make their high school sports programs the cream of the crop.
“Ten years ago, my main focus was scheduling events and officials,” Hester said. “Now my main focus is working to raise funds.”
With that as the landscape, and a struggling economy as a backdrop, school athletics programs have come to rely more heavily on booster groups as sources of steady income.
“We would not be able to survive without our booster club,” Hester said. “They supplement the extra needs that we have. It takes a lot of financial resources to succeed.”
Indeed, the Columbus North Bull Dog Booster Club has put its stamp on the school with its fundraising efforts.
Hester and North football coach Tim Bless know those kind of contributions are vital for teams to remain competitive.
“We strive for excellence, not extravagance,” Hester said.
Bless said he appreciates the support he receives from the school district and his booster club, which has donated more than $600,000 to the North athletics program along with raising money for the new fitness facility opened in 2003 and the North/East Turf Project installed in 2006.
“From my perspective, the vast majority of our needs are taken care of,” he said. “A lot of that comes from our booster club.”
The needs to run a football program can get expensive.
“I think you see it at all levels,” Bless said. “It’s an arms race. Everyone wants to put out an attractive product.
“In our league, with most of the teams based in Marion County, the facilities are advanced beyond the rest of the state.”
With those kinds of demands, some booster clubs have gone from being social groups to mini corporations.
Hester said that North’s athletics booster group is one of the best, if not the best, in the state.
“You won’t find a booster group more developed than ours,” he said. “We have one of the stronger booster groups in the state. It’s a solid model. ...
“Two of the most impressive things have been the amount of money they raised in a short amount of time to build the strength facility and how, just a few years later, they raised double that amount to construct two turf fields. That was nothing short of amazing.”
At Columbus East, booster clubs also do some amazing things, but athletic director Bob Gaddis doesn’t want his program to become tied to boosters to make things run.
“We’re different in that we don’t have one big booster club,” Gaddis said. “Each sport can have its own booster club. I’ve been in schools that had one big club. Unless you are tremendously organized, coaches would ask for money and they would or wouldn’t get it, and it created animosity. I’m not interested in doing that again.
“I don’t feel our student-athletes hurt for anything. I don’t want to put athletes on the field with inadequate equipment. If we thought we had inadequate equipment, we would address it. The way I feel, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
As the school’s football coach, Gaddis loves the things provided by the East Quarterback Club.
“We do things that make the players feel special,” said Carol Geraghty, East Quarterback Club president. “For a first-rate program, it is a necessity. The budget dollars just aren’t there through the schools. We have friends in Ohio whose kids pay $350 up front.
“So we feed them all through the camps, and every Thursday night we have a massive pasta dinner. We started a tailgate endeavor this year. We have contributed to uniforms in the past.”
But Geraghty did say that the booster club remains part social organization.
“You meet the parents of friends, and it becomes a family affair,” she said. “We cheer for each other’s kids. We care for each other.”
At North, the booster group could be described as more businesslike.
“This year, we have about 20 members on the board,” said Laura Grana, who is president of the Bull Dog Boosters. “It takes all of us to do what we do. Just putting together the North-East football game is a lot of work. Our booster memberships raise money. Our concessions bring in money. We did a live auction with dinner at Simmons Winery last year, and we netted over $20,000.
“And raising money is just half of it. We do anything we can to spearhead school spirit.”
Grana said she hasn’t seen any problems arise from programs being jealous about how funds were distributed.
“Jeff Hester has the coaches go through him,” she said. “They tell him what they need, and he brings it to our monthly meeting. Last weekend, we approved new uniforms for the football team. Jeff does a great job making sure everyone gets what they need.”
Grana doesn’t mind that the boosters are asked to fill the gap when North’s program can’t match what other programs are providing.
“I know football can be expensive, especially when you look at what other schools have,” she said. “It overwhelms me. But I think it is worth it. Sports, like any other extracurricular program ... music, drama, journalism ... gives the students so much, leadership, managing their time, staying healthy.
“I don’t know where the limit is. But as long as we can get it, I’m all for it.”
As North heads toward a Class 6A classification in football, the next issue might be the school’s press box, which has become outdated. Whether the booster group is asked to help out remains to be seen.
“Our press box is designed to fit 15 people,” Hester said. “Every Friday night, we have more than 20. I had to turn away two TV broadcasters last Friday. Then on top of the roof, where the coaches film, there just is not enough room. Those 6A teams have much larger staffs. It’s only going to keep getting bigger. It is not wide enough or long enough.”
Bless said it is not high enough.
“The video we capture, it’s more efficient on the road,” he said. “We’re at a higher elevation. The higher we are, the more efficient we are.”
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