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Big-Time Boosters
Well-run, well-attended booster clubs make a huge difference for some football programs.

By Scott Kraft

Maximize Your Booster Club - Tips to excite your boosters about fundraising, helping your program succeed.

Innovative Fundraising Ideas - Here are some fundraising ideas your booster club can consider to raise anywhere from a little to a lot of money to support the football program.

The football boosters at Hoover High School in Birmingham, Ala., bring in over $300,000 for the program every year, part of the over $800,000 raised for athletic programs at the school. Rush Propst, the school’s athletic director and football coach, says the club’s long-term goal is to build an indoor practice facility for the football team.

“We have things a lot of high schools don’t have,” Propst says, noting that every position at the school has its own projector for game film, while other high schools might have only two for the entire program.

“We feel like we’re an elite program, or we want to be. We’ve sold our parents on settling for nothing but the best,” Propst says. “Without the booster club, that wouldn’t happen.”

The reality is, a strong, motivated club of boosters can do a whole lot for a football program. Some factors, such as community wealth, will always separate some clubs from others. And on-field success is also a prime motivator for a booster club.

But the coaches and booster representatives who spoke with American Football Monthly spoke about other common themes, such as mutual respect, ground rules that encourage the coach and all of the boosters to participate, parent access to the head coach and respect for the coach’s control over playing time and on-field decisions. Basically, they like each other – a lot.

The Money, and the Bigger Picture

Think of your booster club as an investor, and think of your football program as a company that issues stock. If you only see your booster club as a vehicle to get your program what it needs to be competitive – uniforms, equipment, projectors, good meals for your players – while keeping issues like fundraising and common parent gripes about their son’s playing time at a comfortable distance, you’re missing the boat by half.

The investor analogy – the financial investment your booster club makes in your program is a way to give your program the tools and facilities needed to gain a competitive edge. Like any investor, however, the booster club wants a return on its investment. The boosters, often parents, want to see the team win games. But as parents, they also want to see the impact the football program is having on the lives of their children. They want to see – firsthand – how your football program is helping their sons become men. They want a closer look than the one they get from the sidelines on Friday night, or in periodic reports from you. They want to be involved in a quantifiable way in the success of their sons.

When Ron Johnson left his job as an assistant at the University of Miami (Ohio), to take over as head coach at Westside High School in Westside, Ohio, he began a program called the Afterglow, designed to bring the coaches, parents and players together after games not to re-enact what just happened on the field, but just to spend time – time parents may not have with their sons again for the rest of the weekend.

“We keep the kids right after school. They watch film, eat a pre-game meal, dress, then go play,” Johnson says. “Ordinarily, we play on Friday night. After the game, the kids usually hook-up with their buddies to get a pizza or something. The next day, we practice at 8 a.m. After the walk-through, they hook-up with the guys again, then they go to sleep. Sunday could be the first time they see their parents since Thursday night. There’s no time for family time.”

The Afterglow, Johnson says, is a chance for the players to spend time with their families, program alums and other boosters right after the game. It never lasts more than 30 minutes, he notes, and the group just enjoys soft drinks and desserts. While the meeting itself isn’t fueled on emotion, it helps the kids to decompress.

“We’ve all been part of the emotion of winning and losing. You get with your buddies after the game, do what you’re not supposed to do,” Johnson says. “This allows you to gather yourself. By that time, you go to bed with your focus back.”

Equally important, Johnson has created and implemented a chance for parents to be with their sons – and the football program – right after the game.

“Anytime you’re more vested – you’ve got all of your chips in the middle – it’s hard to fold,” Johnson says. “We don’t ask for anything. We do things to get the boosters to be a part of the team – an emotional and time investment – in time we get the financial support and donations.”

Lead your team of boosters

Terry Isaminger is the past president of the Hoover High School Booster Club. He credits Coach Propst for the group’s prolific fundraising.

“Because of the coach’s involvement, parents are willing to do anything for the kids,” Isaminger says. “It starts with the leadership from the coach. The key to a successful booster club is for the coach to communicate to the parents through the president of the booster club.”

Like Johnson, Propst has time set aside for all of the parents. On Friday afternoon, he and some of his assistants eat lunch at a local restaurant with as many as 40 fathers of his players.

“We’ve played out the whole game by the time it starts,” Isaminger says with a laugh – not the laugh of a parent pressuring a coach, but the laugh of a parent who feels vested in the program’s success.

Propst also hosts, on a rotating basis, 12 parents for a Thursday morning breakfast every week. Isaminger says the program is so popular, the boosters no longer worry about parents calling to confirm they’ll attend. They just open the doors and the parents come.

“He tells parents what the booster club is all about,” Isaminger said. “He is in a small setting to meet the parents and share his philosophies and what to expect – not just during the season but all of the time.”

Mike Mischler, head coach at Erie (Pa.) Cathedral Prep High School, meets with the boosters weekly in season, bi-weekly as the season approaches and monthly in the offseason. He has expectations for the boosters and they know it.

“We want to be surrounded with organized, highly motivated people there for the right reasons,” Mischler says. “If you’re there to get more playing time for your son, then we don’t want you.”

Johnson shared the same concerns, but noted the coach sets the tone by conveying his expectations to the booster club, and inviting them to take ownership of the program. When parents come together – and work together – for the common goals of the team, and come to know each other as friends, he says many of the concerns about individual playing time are lost in the goals of the team.

“It’s no different from coaching your team,” Johnson says. “This is another team – now you’re dealing with adults. You want them to have the same goals as the kids - to have the most beneficial experience and the most team success.”

When Propst became athletic director at Hoover, he broke up the school’s one booster club so that each sport had it’s own club. The result was a 10-fold increase in annual donations after three years.

“It’s a way to declare ownership in a sport,” Propst says. “If a dad’s going to donate $5-10,000 to soccer, he knows it’s spent on that team. With the old budget, you didn’t know that. We’ve got more parent support than we’ve ever had.”

‘The 80/20 Rule’

Mike Mischler, head coach of Erie (Pa.) Cathedral Prep High School, the challenge can be even greater. Because it’s a private school, Mischler doesn’t have any public funding to fall back on.

As a result, it’s more critical he gets more parents – and players – involved in fundraising.

“Every kid helps in fundraising – everyone’s got ownership, pitches in and takes responsibility,” Mischler said. “If a kid forgets his equipment, he knows how much it costs to buy football equipment by having ownership in the program.”

It also helps bring in more parental involvement. Mischler talked about having mandatory fundraisers – he hasn’t doneit yet – to beat the “80/20 rule – 20 percent of the people doing 80 percent of the work.”

Part of that is creating excitement around the program.

“When you get the people around you excited, they’re willing to go the extra mile,” Mischler said. “Some people can do an amazing amount of work. Some without ties to the program. They no longer have a son in the program, but come back because it was one of the best experiences they’ve ever had.”

That’s when your booster club is on its way to success. Isaminger also talked about breaking down the “80/20 rule.”

Parents who can’t afford booster club expenses, he notes, are brought into the program at no cost and asked to help out – to take ownership.

“Doing the key work is how it is in our club,” Isaminger says. “We have a saying – you’re not a booster until you’re cleaning the cafeteria after we feed the kids at night and a garbage bag bursts open on you.”