County booster clubs hope fundraisers like this one, the annual Mariners’ Feast, return this school year. (Contributed photo)

CARTERET COUNTY — County high school athletic booster clubs are ready to get back on fundraising track this year.

The top moneymaking efforts were canceled in the 2020-2021 calendar, but things are looking up.

“Now we’re trying to make up for the losses we had last year,” East Carteret Athletic Booster Club President Allison Struyk said. “It’s very important the Mariners’ Feast goes on successfully. Not having that, it was a big punch.”

East’s biggest fundraiser of the year, a dinner and silent auction known as the Mariners’ Feast, was shut down in 2020 by the pandemic.

It is set for 6 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 7 in the gymnasium.

“That represents between half to 60 percent of our fundraising for the year,” Struyk said. “It raises about $25,000. The only other fundraiser is the trout tournament, and we just had that for the first year, so we’re just getting started with it. The other half of our money comes from concessions at games.”

West Carteret similarly has its biggest fundraiser, a dinner with live music and a silent auction, known as the Captain’s Mess, at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 24 at the Country Club of the Crystal Coast on Pine Knoll Shores.

“In the past, we raised upwards of $60,000 through sponsors and ticket sales with that event,” West Carteret Athletic Booster Club President Anna Segrave said. “We didn’t have it last year. We felt horrible asking for money from businesses with everything that was going on.”

West also raises most of the rest of its funds through game concessions.

This year, the booster club has fashioned another way to create enthusiasm for the athletic program, selling flags to businesses in hopes they will “Paint the town with Patriot Pride” on game days.

“We’re super excited about the potential of some of our teams, so we are trying to make it a splashy situation as we go back to school,” Segrave said. “Whether it’s Highway 24, Arendell Street, all the way to downtown, Bridges Street, you name it, we think it will be cool to see those out.”

Croatan plans to return to its two biggest fundraisers, a spaghetti dinner and pancake breakfast. No dates are yet set for those as planning is scheduled for this month.

It also hopes to put on a softball tournament and is looking forward to seeing its annual Beast of the East wrestling tournament take place again.

“We couldn’t do any of those,” Croatan Athletic Booster Club President Amy Odom said. “We were really limited. As long as there are no limitations this year, we hope to have all of them.”

Like its county counterparts, Croatan was hurt by the pandemic but joined the others in being able to withstand it thanks to careful financial planning.

“We had a little bit tucked away,” Odom said. “We didn’t have to go beg, plead and borrow. We had a little bit of a cushion, but not as much as we would have liked.”

The booster clubs typically pick up the bill for team uniforms, something that can run $10,000 to $15,000 a year. Other projects are also tackled. Struyk said East chipped in half the cost to upgrade the sound system in the gym, and paid for part of the long/triple jump pits for track and field.

A couple of cash influxes aided the booster clubs, both now and in the future.

The N.C. High School Athletic Association paid about $10,000 to each school in pandemic relief, and county voters overwhelmingly supported the school bond referendum, which will pay off in improving, renovating, replacing and equipping school facilities, including athletic facilities.

Each of the three schools is set to host a county football game this fall, which should pay off big in concession sales to the tune of thousands of dollars.

East will host Croatan on Friday, Sept. 3, West will host East on Friday, Sept. 17, and Croatan will host West on Friday, Oct. 29.

Concessions weren’t available until spring during the last sports calendar, and even then, they were limited.

“Our concession stand sales were hurt,” Struyk said. “We didn’t have them at all for indoor sports. Then we had capacity limits, and we were restricted by what we could cook, what we could serve. It was mostly prepackaged items, a lot of candy bars and candy. We couldn’t cook anything. It was not a big income.”

A year and a half disrupted – the 2020 spring sports season was shut down early in the pandemic – has in some circles produced a lot of businesses and individuals coming out of the woodwork to help. Some of the booster clubs are looking to set records.

“This year has been great,” Segrave said. “We have so much support. A lot of great new energy, a lot of great new faces have joined our booster club. Sports are back, and we need everyone’s help. We want to come back stronger than ever and have our best year yet.”

Struyk is in her fifth year as president, while Segrave and Odom enter their first years leading their clubs. Parents often volunteer while their children are in high school participating in sports.

“I’ve been in the booster club since my son Austin was a freshman,” Odom said. “I was the vice president last year, and although it was a different scenario as vice president, I think I’ll be fine. I love kids, love doing anything I can for them.”

Struyk reported she learned a couple of important lessons in her most difficult year and a half leading the East booster club.

“I am very much a Type A personality,” she said. “I want a plan, a backup plan, and then a backup plan for the backup plan. But with COVID, you learned to fly by the seat of your pants, because in an instance, your plan was out the window. Our hands were tied in so many ways. And you have to stay positive, because if you waver, show negativity, the kids feed off that, and they will be the same way. You have to teach them to roll with the punches.”

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