MOREHEAD CITY — Ask what it’s like to be an athletic booster club president during a pandemic from those who lead the three county public high school’s main sports fundraising organizations, and you hear a different version of the same thing.
Phrases like “It’s a struggle for sure” or “It’s pretty stressful” or “It’s daunting” are commonplace.
The spring high school sports season came to an abrupt end in mid-March due to the coronavirus, and now as the fall season approaches, things don’t look much better.
On Wednesday, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper announced phase two of the state’s reopening plan was being extended until at least Friday, Sept. 11. The N.C. High School Athletic Association, which had already pushed back the start of the fall campaign from Aug. 1 to Sept. 1, followed Cooper’s announcement with one of its own.
The start of the 2020-2021 school year will now be delayed beyond Sept. 1 for member schools. The NCHSAA hopes to announce a new calendar by Monday, Aug. 17.
“How do you ask people to sponsor sporting events and seasons that may never happen,” Croatan Athletic Booster Club President Danica McLeod said. “It is very difficult.”
The high school fall sports season typically starts around the third week of August – meaning booster clubs would be gearing up for big gates and concessions from county football games like the Mullet Bucket between East Carteret and West Carteret and the Bogue Sound Classic between West Carteret and Croatan.
“Do we sell season passes,” East Carteret Athletic Booster Club President Allison Struyk said. “We’ll need a caveat, a disclaimer, to let people know it’s probably going to be a modified sports year, not just season.”
Even if sports happen this fall, Struyk wonders what that will look like, and how does it affect fundraising.
“What if people buy a pass, and we can have a maximum of 500 at the stadium for football,” she said. “And then these people with season passes show up and they’re the 501st and they’re not allowed in. It’s just worrisome.”
Struyk said people are understanding and realize there is a chance sports won’t happen, but it doesn’t make it any easier when you are asking for money. Of course, asking for money is a difficult chore, even when people aren’t suffering financially from the pandemic. It’s taken now on new significance.
“Even the small businesses, they’ve been struggling since March,” West Carteret Athletic Booster Club President Megan Johnson said. “A lot of those are the ones that give us sponsorships. How can we go out and ask for money from them?”
But money, and plenty of it, is what it takes to run a high school athletic program.
The West Carteret booster club supplied nearly $60,000 in funds last year. In addition to gates, concessions and sponsorships, a lot of that came from major fundraisers such as the annual Captain’s Mess, a dinner that features a guest speaker.
“Between that and the Patriots Club (sponsorships), we generate most of our revenue for the year,” Johnson said. “And we haven’t done those yet. We do have a little bit of a cushion but not much.”
Johnson, who is entering her fourth year as president, said the plan is to now hold the Captain’s Mess in January. It was originally scheduled for Sept. 25 at the Dunes Club in Atlantic Beach.
Likewise, the Mariners’ Feast at East Carteret is a big moneymaker. It was supposed to be held last weekend, but the boosters are now shooting for a modified version on the football field in November.
“Last year, that brought in around $40,000,” Struyk said. “So that is a pretty big punch to take. That is our big fundraiser for the year.”
Struyk, who is also in her fourth year as president, said the East Carteret Booster Club had $48,000 on hand this time last year and now has $24,000. The club buys uniforms each year, which costs $12,000.
“That takes a big chunk of it,” Struyk said. “Luckily, we planned ahead, and we went ahead and purchased all the uniforms that were required for the year. But now we have to focus on the next $12,000 to buy uniforms this year for the next year.”
There are other fundraisers as well.
Croatan usually does a pancake breakfast in the spring and was planning on putting on its first-ever color run in December.
“We probably won’t be able to do either of those,” McLeod said. “Our last meal fundraiser brought in $5,000. That is a huge chunk. Right now, we’re at a standstill.”
McLeod, who is in her third year as president, said the boosters were supposed to meet this past week, but to add to the difficulties of 2020, Hurricane Isaias disrupted those plans.
“We have to start looking at alternatives,” she said. “Now everything is at a stop, but we have to get ready in case we get to play.”
West Carteret missed out on its Ford Test Drive in March when Lookout Ford brings several different automobile models to the school and allows anyone to do a test drive.
“And for every test drive, they gave us a certain amount of money,” Johnson said. “Last year, we raised $4,000. That is another big fundraiser for us, and we weren’t able to do that. It’s just been one thing after another.”
Each of the three presidents spoke of the struggle of the unknowns, of being in constant limbo. All three were also quick to point out the wonderful support their communities have shown in the past. Each also spoke of the worries for their student-athletes.
“There may be no (traditional) school, no sports. It breaks my heart,” said McLeod whose son Connor plays football. “It breaks the same way it does of every parent of a senior.”