Booster Clubs… “They’re necessary for us to even survive.”

by Michael Garcia on July 18, 2014

Below is a great and recent article that discusses the merits and necessity of high school athletic booster clubs in the state of Oregon.  High school art programs are equally if not more affected by district budget cuts and the need for booster clubs are just as important.  Investing in the betterment of your booster club can cause the best long-term return for your school, program and ultimately, the kids that are participating. 

Football booster clubs rise as budgets fall: 'They’re necessary for us to even survive

As school districts cut athletic budgets, the importance of booster clubs increases.

By Jerry Ulmer |
on July 14, 2014 7 a.m.

For parents new to the Tigard High School football program, it came as a shock.

Many of them had volunteered in the thriving youth program, helping to make it one of the best in the Portland area. But when their children reached high school six years ago, they found the program was lacking.

“They realized that the youth program had better equipment, and safer equipment, than the high school program did,” Tigard parent Bob Smith said.

So they went to work to raise money for better equipment, and it didn’t stop there. They cleaned and painted the locker room. They bought extra lockers. They helped repair seats in the grandstand. They provided new headsets for the coaches. And Friends of Tigard Football was born.

As school districts continue to cut athletic budgets, such sport-specific booster clubs have become the lifeblood of football programs. They allow the football program to operate with virtual autonomy within the athletic department, in some cases raising more than $60,000 each year to account for roughly 90 percent of the sport’s budget.

“Groups like Friends of Tigard Football are not important, they are more than important – they’re critical,” Tigard coach Craig Ruecker said. “They’re necessary for us to even survive.”

Smith, a board member for Friends of Tigard Football and for the Tigard-Tualatin School District, said increased reliance on such clubs is the new reality for public schools.

“People don’t realize how much it takes to actually run a program,” Smith said. “It’s probably $70,000 for a year to run the program, and there’s no way the school district can do that. It’s not like it used to be.”

It’s the same dynamic at Clackamas. The Clackamas Touchdown Club raises $70,000 to $80,000 each year, carrying the burden for the athletic department and helping alleviate pressure from the coaches and players.

“We try to keep the coaches from having to think about things that take them away from their focus on the kids,” said John Baker, president of the Clackamas club. “If the coaches had to do all of that stuff, besides coaching and spending time with the kids, it would really deteriorate the quality of the program they’re able to provide.”

It has become an accepted role for parents. Steve Coury, entering his 23rd season as Lake Oswego’s coach, said the biggest difference he has noticed in the program’s booster club in recent years is that more parents have gotten involved.

“I think we’ve run a good program where they want to be a part of it,” Coury said. “The other part is we’re asking for more. I’m constantly wanting to keep updating the facilities. I want the kids to be able to have playoff dinners and whatever, traditional things that have kind of built themselves up in my 22 years.”


Booster clubs have long been part of the fabric of high school athletics. In many high schools, though, they have been a single club contributing to an all-sports general fund, with the money being dispersed to programs as deemed warranted by its board members.

That model has its pitfalls, though. With booster club board members representing particular sports, conflicts of interest can arise in distributing the funds.

Ruecker said it became an issue when he first started coaching at Reynolds (1977-81). And with programs relying more on fundraising today, the issue is magnified.

“Coaches had to go to the board and make a case for, ‘We need these items,’” Ruecker said. “If you had people on the board, you were very likely to get them, and if you didn’t, you were likely not to. So it became political in getting people on the board.”

That’s not a problem in Ruecker’s current situation at Tigard.

“When I have a meeting of Friends of Tigard Football, everybody in that meeting wants the best for that football program because they’re all football people,” Ruecker said. “I don’t have to say to them, ‘I need to spend $2,500 on footballs, and have them go, ‘Coach, are you sure you need that many footballs?’ I wouldn’t want to work in that situation.”

In Ruecker’s tenure as the coach at Glencoe (1982-2003), the football team had its own booster club and paid for – among other things -- catered meals for the players. Ruecker was confronted by a district administrator who expressed concerns about equity, suggesting that the club should feed athletes from other sports, too.

“Our people raised the money for our kids, we’re spending it on our kids, and everybody could do the same,” Ruecker recalled as his response. “I said, ‘You can get a new football coach. Instead of telling us we need to feed the volleyball team, why don’t you tell the volleyball coach to raise the money for the volleyball people.’ It died down real fast.”

Canby is among the schools that have an all-sports booster club but no sport-specific clubs.

Canby does not allow programs to have outside funding sources. The roughly $45,000 raised by the football program each year (the district budget is about $5,000) goes into its own Associated Student Body account. Purchases must be approved by a student and principal, who has veto power.

Compared with programs that pay some of their coaches through booster clubs, Canby is at a disadvantage because by paying through the school, it is on the hook for taxes and other fees.

“If I pay one of my coaches, let’s say $3,500, to be an on-staff coach, I’m going to have to raise almost $6,000,” Canby coach Mike Vaught said, adding that three of the program’s 10 coaches are paid through fundraising.

Could Canby football form its own booster club?

“I suppose if I wanted to push it and try to get someone to start one, I could, but it would cause friction between the football program and the school,” Vaught said.


Football booster clubs have become quite adept, and often innovative, in raising money.

Clackamas rakes in $40,000 for its annual casino night, splitting the haul between the high school and youth programs. Tigard gets a big chunk of its revenue from players selling raffle tickets for a trip to Las Vegas. Lake Oswego stages a golf tournament and a lift-a-thon.

Barlow, located in a rural area known for its nurseries, hits big on its annual plant sale and car wash on the Saturday before Mother’s Day.

“We’ve got people who wait to buy their plants for the spring on that day,” Barlow coach Terry Summerfield said. “We have people that own nurseries, and they have boys that play football in the program, and when their sons graduate, they continue to help out and donate product to the plant sale. They’re very generous.”

Crater of Central Point raffles off a weekend in Portland that includes courtside tickets to a Trail Blazers game and a penthouse apartment in the Pearl District, all donated by a booster from the Comet Club.

Sheldon of Eugyene, which like Canby does not have its own football booster club, relies heavily on donations solicited through players. Each year, players are required to submit 10 addresses of possible donors – usually family and friends – and the program sends out letters asking for contributions. It typically gets a strong response.

“I think we had 80 kids last year, and something like 65 had money sent in on their behalf,” Sheldon coach Lane Johnson said. “I don’t like asking anybody, but you can’t survive because we don’t get any money from our school district. We don’t get a dime for equipment or anything.”

Clubs also have learned how to tap into corporate sponsorships with VIP treatment at games.

Friends of Tigard Football sells an executive package that includes field advertising, four reserved seats, preferred parking and food for $750 per season. Barlow has a similar package that, depending on the level of contribution, can include team gear and catered meals.

Crater’s Comet Club gold sponsors ($500 or more) receive two sideline passes for home games and two Nike booster polo shirts. The Clackamas Touchdown Club offers “special patrons” reserved seats, preferred parking and a barbecue meal for contributions starting at $250.

“The seats are really good, so they just kind of roll in when they want,” Clackamas coach Joe Bushman said. “Our parking is at a premium at our games, so it’s pretty nice to just roll in and have your own spot.”

As the burden increases on the local business community, Lake Oswego’s Coury said he envisions high schools taking a cue from colleges and turning more to alumni for donations.

“I think this is where it’s going, an alumni association,” Coury said. “Last year in our golf tournament, we had like 12, 14 alumni kids come back and pay to play in our tournament. Getting those guys on your mailing list and getting them involved, you’re creating a booster beyond players that are currently there.”


With the large sums of money comes the potential for impropriety. In Friends of Tigard Football, Ruecker has the freedom to spend on the program as he wishes but all purchases are recorded by the treasurer.

“While I have to orchestrate a lot of the fundraising, it would only be ethical and morally correct for me to not be involved with the money,” Ruecker said. “Out of the money that goes into our treasury, the only thing I have to do is tell Bob, ‘Hey, I just bought $2,000 worth of footballs, would you pay the bill?’”

Ruecker and the club also are keenly aware of the possibility of parents attempting to use their position in the club to wield influence. Smith said that Ruecker makes it clear to club members that any such politics are forbidden.

“He would tell you that if you’re joining because you want your son to be the star quarterback or to have more playing time, that’s not how it works,” Smith said. “He wouldn’t go play golf or go to dinner with me until my son graduated because he didn’t want people to think my son was getting something special.”

Dealing with such issues is a small trade-off for the freedom to spend, however. If Ruecker wants to pay to have the football uniforms dry-cleaned each week or spend $300 on popsicles for a youth camp – both items in the club’s budget – he doesn’t have to answer to the school district for it.

And with the push for football safety in recent years, having a sport-specific booster club allows programs to stay on the cutting edge of technology.

“Schools themselves can’t really afford to continue to upgrade and replace equipment,” Clackamas’ Baker said. “So we focus quite a bit on the quality and the safety of the equipment and bridge that gap between what the school district can manage.”

As that gap widens, such clubs have become increasingly essential.

“When I first came to Crater 10 years ago, my equipment budget was $10,000,” Crater coach John Beck said. “And now, 10 years later, it’s $6,000. And the equipment is more expensive, and we have more kids in the program. We’re very underfunded by our district, but we’re just lucky we have generous businesses in our community that support athletics.”

Tigard’s Smith said the booster club’s effort is all about enhancing the high school football experience.

“It’s the little things we do that help make the program what it is,” Smith said. “It’s just a way for us to help and make sure that our kids are safe and have the things they need, and let the coaches concentrate on coaching and the kids concentrate on playing.”

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