By Claire Walla
Last November, when the Lady Whalers made it to the state finals in Upstate New York, the community came out en masse to support them. And though the team’s budget for fan buses was maxed out by the time the ladies headed north to compete for the state championship title, parents stepped into help. They chartered a bus to the game and even threw together a victory party back here in Sag Harbor when the regional champs returned.
“I was proud of the fact that the community showed this spirit,” said parent Robert Evjen. “And this thought came into my mind: Why can’t we have this same community spirit for all our kids?”
Together with a core group of equally proactive parents — most notably Laura Matthers, Cynthia Barrett, Lisa Koehne—Evjen and Sag Harbor School District Athletic Director Montgomery Granger began hashing out plans for a booster club.
In light of the district’s efforts to minimize spending across the board, this group of parents and other volunteers will be tasked with raising outside funds for extracurricular activities at the school. While much of the group’s fundraising efforts will hinge on athletic needs, Granger noted that there are other student organizations, like Model U.N., arts and music programs, that will be able to benefit from the parent-driven club.
While Pierson High School had a booster club a few years ago, Evjen said the momentum seemed to fizzle after the children of the parents involved graduated. And though the idea of forming a booster club had been tossed around in the years since, the club — to be known as The Whalers’ Booster Club — will finally come to fruition this spring.
“In the crawl, walk, run cycle, it’s still in the crawl phase,” Granger said, noting that the club is technically in what’s called a “pre-formational” stage. Evjen, who will head the club as president, is now in the midst of what he estimates will be a two-month process to secure the organization’s non-profit status, which is ultimately what will allow members to solicit funds for school activities independent of the school budget.
“While we’re waiting [for non-profit status], we’re moving forward with laying the groundwork for the club,” Evjen said. “And we want to include every parent, as well as the community and the administration, in every step of the process.”
He added that club members will start talking to the athletic staff regarding the types of activities they’d like to participate in come spring, with the hope that the booster club will be ready to dish out funds in the next few months.
“Many business organizations [in Sag Harbor] are already stepping up to the plate,” said Evjen. “We want to be financially strong, and I think we’re already good in that sense.”
Granger added that the club has a good network of interested parents, noting that about 20 people showed up to a meeting on Wednesday, February 3, and 10 to 20 others independently approached Evjen about getting involved.
Another key component is the Pierson coaching staff. And, according to Granger, many coaches are already eager to help.
Girls’ Varsity Softball Coach Melissa Edwards said the school’s athletic budget doesn’t afford teams the opportunity to participate in additional activities that could strengthen the Pierson sports program, like sports clinics and summer sports camps.
“To build a program, it has to be from the bottom up,” she said, which means branching out into the community and bridging the gap between the school’s programs and the community’s younger athletes.
She continued, “The booster club gives us a vehicle now to have the money to do some of those things.”
As Edwards sees it, the booster club isn’t just a one-way street that funnels money to students’ activities. The teams’ relationships with the Sag Harbor community are symbiotic.
“We want to see our kids out in the community more often,” she said.
Her hope is for teams to take on more community service initiatives and become more of a presence off the field. By strengthening the program from the inside out, she added, teams will be able to grow more support, which will all come back to the athletes.
Because in the end, Edwards continued, “It’s all about making the athletic department shine a spotlight on the kids.”