Any athletic administrator understands how booster clubs are a critical component to high school athletics these days. What is also apparent is the need to discover ways to mobilize parents within a booster club in our time-crunched culture.
“Not only do booster clubs engage the parents in the various sports to be ‘in the know’ but it also is a great way to resource for funding and to organize volunteers quickly,” said Cincinnati (Ohio) Wyoming High School Athletic Director Jan Wilking. “The more connected people feel to what is going on, the more they are willing to donate their time and energy toward a common goal.”
As with any business or organization, collaboration is essential. Parents want to feel like they have a vested interest in assisting the athletic department and its various teams.
“Parents are one key variable to the student success triangle,” said Steve Amaro, athletic director at Freedom High School in Oakley, California. “If the students, teachers, coaches and parents work together, there is no limit to what can be accomplished. As an athletic director I want to work with the parents as they are key to our student success.”
Parents, coaches and athletic directors should be able to say their mission is to give student-athletes the most positive experience possible in high school athletics. Booster clubs serve as an effective platform for accomplishing that goal.
“We all know that parents can be challenging at times, but I choose to see them as an asset that wants to work with us,” Amaro said.
Parents are able to learn the how’s and why’s to an athletic department. Such insight is invaluable throughout the school year.
“The more people I can build a positive relationship with makes a huge difference in being able to handle issues when they arise,” said West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West Athletic Director Scott Kaufman. “I recognize that we do not do everything perfectly, but I do know that we try to be perfect. Being connected with boosters helps to relay the message as well as allows you to build a network within the community. Your biggest advocates are the ones you work closer with. The boosters are the folks who are right there with you in the trenches of daily operations who are only trying to make things better for the school and the program. They are a vital part of our team and we need them to accomplish our goals.”
Phil Rison, associate executive director of the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, has found some strategies to be the most beneficial in working with parents toward a common goal.
“Over-communicate, utilize all sources of communication and over-communicate the expectations to each booster group,” Rison says. “Also, you want to develop relationships with parents and thank them for their service.”
Rison recommends an annual meeting with leadership of all booster groups, utilizing that session to communicate expectations and requirements. He said some school districts might require specific paperwork in order for a booster group to operate, so a yearly meeting is an opportunity to convey your message and set parameters at the same time.
“Parents need to understand the guidelines in which the school must operate their athletic programs, so being transparent as to expectations for uniforms, trips, etc., needs to be communicated with all,” Rison said. “I would also encourage goal-setting for each booster group; it’s easier to raise funds if we know the purpose the funds will be used for.”
Amaro agrees. He likes having parents informed on where the revenue will be directed from boosters’ fundraisers.
“The importance to our parents is ensuring transparency – where the funds go,” Amaro said. “In this sense, I shared budgets with them at the beginning, middle and end of the school year. I divide the budgets
down so that the parents can see the expenses and income of each sport and they can see how the money is spent. With this transparency, the parents know where each team program stands.”
Athletic administrators and boosters clubs must also realize the possibility that school districts might cut budgets during a particular school year.
Jeannie Prevosto, athletics and activities manager at Mount Hebron High School in Howard County, Maryland, says her school’s booster club has a core group of parents who are consistently fundraising and bringing in $75,000 each year for activities, clubs and athletics.
That revenue helps to assist with the many deficits created by limited funding for uniform purchases, facility updates and purchase of equipment.
Prevosto makes sure to be highly involved in the booster club; she is a voting member. She attends the monthly meetings and highly encourages teachers and coaches to attend fundraising events.
“I publish an athletic department report for parents annually that lists all the purchases the booster club has made on behalf of all their fundraising efforts since I’ve been there,” Prevosto said. “Coaches go through me if they would like to ask the booster club for equipment or facility upgrade.”
More often than not, Prevosto supports the measure and presents it to the booster club for discussion of fundraising ideas in order to achieve the goal. The parents set the strategies and goals.
“Once the booster club meets its goals for a request, it is purchased and the parents can see it,” Prevosto said. “They take a great deal of pride in seeing the hard work of all the parent volunteers pay off. This helps in recruiting parent volunteers. Parents see the fruits of their labor in the new softball dugouts, the outfield fence on the baseball field or the new scoreboard on the field hockey field.”
At Oak Hills High School in suburban Cincinnati, the booster club meets monthly to check on several items for one of Southwest Ohio’s largest high schools.
The Oak Hills Booster Club manages concessions at all athletic events, manages memberships and family passes, helps to organize the Oak Hills Sports Stag (banquet fundraiser with a notable speaker), manages and operates spirit wear sales and other significant fundraisers throughout the school year.
The “Booster Board” consists of a president, vice president, treasurer and other positions related to the large projects. More than 200 people have joined the booster club.
Many of the athletic department’s projects have been booster driven such as the weight room, training room, original turf field, soccer goals, equipment, awards, lacrosse netting and all the athletic fields.
“There are officers that attend meetings and then generally a parent rep from each sport,” Oak Hills Athletic Director Tony Hemmelgarn said. “Parent representation is very valuable so that they can disseminate information and support it through their program. If not for our booster group or for past booster groups that I have worked with, we couldn’t survive.”
Sometimes booster clubs are more than just fundraisers. They are beacons for the community. Parents can help with projects in other communities or at other schools.
“Last year, we had a high school community about an hour away that faced tremendous hardship in the face of a wildfire that destroyed over half the homes in the community,” Amaro said. “Our boosters club was moved to set up a station at our football game to take donations for those in need, and specifically help restart the athletic program as some of their materials had burned up in the fire.”
Amaro also encourages the parents to be volunteer drivers to road events. He realizes it may not work for all schools, but it frees up additional funds to spend on capital improvement projects at Freedom High School.
“Our parents have embraced and appreciate this model,” Amaro said.
Stephanie Blackwell, coordinator of athletic programs at Bixby (Oklahoma) High School, says all of the school’s booster clubs are operated by parents.
One of the community service goals the school had last year involved the baseball team inviting students with disabilities to participate in a recreational game of baseball.
Blackwell said the boosters helped to organize and publicize the event and the informational flyer included a link to the previous year’s video highlights.
“It is honestly one of the best events I’ve witnessed as a parent, teacher and supporter of Bixby Schools,” Blackwell said.
Those type of projects are valuable for any parent to be involved in with the booster club.
“These are the final years that their sons and daughters may be living at home with them and overwhelmingly I see parents that want to make their children’s final years as memorable as they can be,” Amaro said.
Mike Dyer is the WCPO.com high school sports reporter in Cincinnati, Ohio. He highlights coverage for up to 150 Cincinnati-high schools on a digital platform and for WCPO-TV. He has been covering high school sports in Ohio since 2000 and has been in Cincinnati since 2004. He previously worked for the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Akron Beacon Journal. Some of his articles have also appeared in the Washington
Post, MaxPreps.com, Orlando Sentinel, Cleveland Plain Dealer and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.