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HCC gets new chief booster

September 13, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Robert O'Connor is back and boosting sports at Hagerstown Community College.

The former tourism director recently moved back to Hagerstown from Hershey, Pa. He is now HCC's Hawk Booster Coordinator, helping raise money and gather support for the college's 16 athletic teams.

The boosters raise about $180,000 annually, all of which is used for athletic scholarships at the college, according to O'Connor. "We get a tremendous amount of support from the community every year," he said.

There are about 300 individual Hawk Booster members and 200 corporate members, according to O'Connor. The college also has several $25,000 endowed scholarships. Although the boosters raise the money, they have no influence on admissions.

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The financial aid office decides separately how the money is spent. The boosters can't use the money to recruit athletes. "We don't know who these scholarships go to and we don't know how much they get," said O'Connor.

His part-time job involves more than attracting more members to raise money. He is trying to increase attendance at games and planning promotions to drum up fan support.

For example, turnout at men's basketball games is poor, despite the strength of the team, according to O'Connor. "It really disappoints the players," he said.

The Dixon, Ill., native graduated Northern Illinois University with a bachelor's degree in zoology. In 1970, Washington County's instructional television system attracted him to the area because it was considered a cutting-edge teaching tool.

He took a teaching job at Hancock Middle/Senior High School and later taught at Williamsport High School. He held several other jobs, including working for the Herald-Mail as a reporter, before joining the county's tourism agency in February 1984.

He was executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau for 11 years. In February 1995, he headed north in search of a new challenge. He became director of the Hershey Partnership, a nonprofit organization.

He was impressed with chocolate magnate Milton S. Hershey's legacy. O'Connor didn't build any theme parks, but he made his own mark in Washington County as tourism director.

He helped establish the hotel tax that gives the tourism bureau its funding. He started the annual luminaries at Antietam National Battlefield and brought concerts there. He promoted the county's parks and brought the pow-wow to HCC.

As in his new job, O'Connor boosted Washington County, but he now deals with sports instead of tourism. A lifelong fan, the 54-year-old has been a basketball and soccer referee and his children's cheerleader.

Now he's trying to bring more spectators to HCC. It's a good place to work, he said. "It's got a good atmosphere. There are good possibilities."

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