With tens of thousands of dollars to go and the August 1 deadline fast approaching, it was by no means a sure thing. But last Saturday, a gala auction fundraiser at the Lazy Swan Country Club put the Booster Club’s frantic summer-long drive to save the Saugerties athletic program over the top. The event raised $40,000, and brought the total to over $150,000.
“This is what’s great about Saugerties,” said Steve Haun, the only school trustee to attend the gala. “This is a remarkable effort by the community.”
The effort began when the School Board passed an austerity budget eliminating funding for school sports after voters defeated the original budget by an overwhelming margin on May 17. It’s taken the form of countless events, from car washes to comedy shows, and private checks, both modest and extraordinary. The early emergence of an anonymous donor offering $150,000 if the community could match that figure — the whole program will cost $300,000 — was a quick catalyst, and volunteers expressed confidence from the beginning the goal would be achieved.
Football practice begins August 16.
Booster Club president Maureen Rothe said the outpouring of support by the community was overwhelming. She quickly added that it will be up to the School Board to include sports funding in the regular budget — this is not going to be a regular thing.
“One hundred and fifty thousand dollar donations aren’t just going to fall from the sky year after year,” she said. Rothe urged supporters to attend school board meetings and become more vocal.
Rob VanDerbeck, who organized the gala, agreed, promising (or perhaps hoping?) that this would be the first and last emergency dinner fundraiser to save Saugerties sports. He, too, marveled at the community’s willingness to reach into its pocket during tough economic times.
“It’s amazing,” said VanDerbeck. “We never could have done this without the community. This is an organization that is designed to raise $10,000 over 52 weeks, and we’ve just raised $150,000 in eight.”
He added: “We just got thrown a giant bucket of lemons, so we said fine, let’s throw a huge lemonade party.”
Sandy Terpening echoed the sentiments concerning the strength of the community. “That’s what Saugerties is all about, I think,” she said.
A joyful evening
Over 250 supporters filled the Lazy Swan Country Club to enjoy a roast beef dinner and place bids for live and silent auction items. Early predictions for the event’s take were all around $25,000, though it became clear as the evening progressed that figure would exceeded.
Auctioneer Barry Cherwin, once named NYC Auctioneer of the Year, started the live auction by offering up a $100 bill that sold for $1,600. (He didn’t get to be Auctioneer of the Year for nothing!) Later, he was able to solicit $8,000 in bids on... absolutely nothing!
“We’re going to do something a little different now,” said Cherwin. “You’re bidding on nothing. We’re asking you to open your wallets and help save the sports programs. Who will give me $500?”
The highest sale price was $2,000, for a large painting entitled Go Sawyers.
It certainly helps to have a friendly crowd.
Jill and Keith Michaels went home with four tickets to a behind the scenes meet and greet with the star of Nickelodeon’s iCarly, Miranda Cosgrove. The Michaels said the $600 paid for the trip was well worth it. Their two daughters are fans of the show. Other auctions included a week in a Florida condominium, dinner for 15 at Stone Pony, and tickets to a Mets game with a behind the scenes tour and meet and greet hosted by MLB umpire and Saugerties resident Tom Hallion.
With the anonymous donation, the final tally, as of Tuesday morning, puts booster club fundraising efforts at $303,500. The donation will be presented at the August 10 School Board meeting.
Athletic director Lee Molyneaux said he is thrilled that the Sawyers will play.
“This is certainly not the way I wanted to go about doing it, but it’s great that we will be able to have sports this year.” said Molyneaux.
Booster club treasurer Kathy Polizzi says that other already scheduled fundraisers will go on as planned, and fundraising efforts will continue throughout the year.
“We don’t know what next year is going to bring,” said Polizzi. “We don’t want to say we made our goal and leave it at that. It’s going to be important to keep moving forward.”