Mississippi’s high school football season started last week.
The financial planning for it never stopped.
Before toe met leather last Thursday and Friday nights, the booster clubs that pay for everything from Gatorade to field houses had spent months raising money to carry out their missions of providing private financial support to their respective programs.
“We have several things we do throughout the year,” said John Morganti, president of the Northwest Rankin Cougar Club, the private fundraising arm of the high school’s football team.
The nature and frequency of those things has changed, though, as the economy first plunged into a recession and then began a slow crawl out of it.
Morganti said the Cougar Club has spent the past couple years casting a wider net than before.
“You can’t go out and get all the money you need at one time,” he said. “Especially with the economy, you’ve got to come up with new ideas and do smaller things more frequently. Obviously the sponsorships have dwindled some, so we’re having to target more and more companies. We’ve also tried to do things that the players and parents can help with to raise smaller amounts of money that add up. For example, one of our best fundraisers is a meat sale we do. We have a Boston butt and a turkey along with casseroles that we sell for Easter. That raises a pretty good bit of money and has been a pretty good success for us. You’re hitting a large amount of people up for a small amount of money. In the past one person basically could hit up several companies and get what you needed. You didn’t need to go after as many people. You can’t do that anymore.”
The Cougar Club brings in an average of $20,000 to $30,000, Morganti said, at least half of which pays for pregame meals for about 95 varsity and junior varsity players, coaches and support staff, and in-game Gatorade.
“Above and beyond the food and drinks, we’ll help with any new jerseys, maybe some minor equipment purchases for the coaches.”
Although it doesn’t raise enough money to buy big-ticket items like field houses and weight rooms, the Cougar Club does engage in some fundraising specifically to defray at least some of their cost. Morganti said the booster club will try to raise an additional $30,000 to $40,000 to renovate Northwest Rankin High School’s 30-year-old field house. The rest of the cost will have to come from the school district.
“Because we are simply a booster club for the football team, versus some other schools that have one club that covers all sports, we’re not able to go out there and raise $100,000,” Morganti said.
The national champions get big money
Though its school is most famous for its powerhouse football teams, The South Panola Athletic Foundation serves as a fundraising umbrella organization for all sports.
The foundation started a few years ago to raise money for new field turf at South Panola’s Robert H. Dunlap Stadium at Tiger Field.
“We got a lot of sponsors to put in $50,000, $60,000 to get it going,” said foundation president Kenny Hopper, adding that the total amount reached about $500,000. Hopper hopes to have the $200,000 balance paid off within the next few years, when the foundation will begin to raise money for a new field house.
Like Northwest Rankin’s Cougar Club, the SPAF has had to ask for a little from a lot of sponsors, instead of depending on a handful of heavyweights to carry the financial load.
“Right now it’s hard to get anybody to give you any money,” Hopper said.
The $40,000 or $50,000 the foundation raises in an average year helps send players to camps, coaches to clinics, and pays some of the costs of the rings the Tigers have earned as a result of multiple state championships and a 2010 national championship, as determined by USA Today. The SPAF raised money for a banner celebrating that achievement that will hang at Dunlap Stadium.
A growing proposition at Oak Grove
The booster club for Oak Grove High School, South Panola’s opponent in the 2009 state championship game, has come a long way the past 10 years.
“We’re kind of like the football team,” said Warrior Club vice president John Cummins. “In the late ‘90s, everybody wanted to schedule our football team for the homecoming game. The booster club didn’t have money to do anything but as the school’s grown and the team’s gotten better, so has the booster club. They go hand in hand. I hear from other people who have been involved 10 or 15 years, that we didn’t have the many to buy a laptop if the coaches needed it. It’s really grown. We can actually help now.”
Cummins would not give a ballpark figure for how much the Warrior Club, which raises money for all of Oak Grove’s sports teams, brings in during an average year. But he did say the club’s fundraising model has undergone the same transformation as its counterparts at Northwest Rankin and South Panola: asking for a little from a lot.
“That’s the good thing about a big district,” Cummins said. “If you get $25 from a lot of people, that’s just as good as getting several hundred from a couple.”
Money the Warrior Club raised in the past has paid for a new field house, and will eventually pay to renovate the school’s weight room.
“We do have some really involved businesses and sponsors that help out a lot,” Cummins said. “It kind of surprised me. Before I got involved I didn’t realize how much some of them do.”