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Hawk Booster Club dissolves, HCC Foundation will take lead in athletic fundraising efforts

July 21, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • Jim Brown and Guy Altieri
File photos

In the early 1980s, a group of community members with a passion for athletics at Hagerstown Junior College started a booster club, a club that became one of the most successful community college fundraising organizations in the region.

“We did our job for 30 years,” said Jim Brown, past president of the HCC Hawk Booster Club. “We’re the most successful booster club that we know of, up and down the East Coast.”

With the help of the HCC Hawk Booster Club’s support, athletics on the small campus began to thrive, en route to winning numerous President’s Cup awards throughout the years that followed. So many so that, at one point, the Maryland JuCo Conference stopped giving out the award, Brown said.

It later was reinstated, and since the 2005-06 season, HCC has taken five titles, including schoolwide honors in 2007-08 and 2009-10, and the men’s title in the following three years.

The volunteer group of boosters raised thousands of dollars each year toward scholarships for HCC student-athletes, helping pump more than $100,000 annually into the college’s endowment in recent years, according to booster club members.

The boosters also helped raise money for HCC to buy its first two buses for athletic teams, Brown said.

The current athletic endowment for HCC, which made the formal switch from Hagerstown Junior College in 1998, currently stands at about $1.6 million, according to Stacey Lowman, executive director of college advancement.

“We’ve been a pretty successful group,” Brown said. “All we were interested in was helping the athletic program to the degree that we could.”

However, the Hawk Booster Club, as it previously existed, dissolved in June.


What happened?

“The booster club as it used to be designed is no longer operating,” Brown said.

A letter dated June 20, sent to HCC President Guy Altieri, serves as the final correspondence between the college and the longtime Hawk Booster Club.

“Thank you for your support and cooperation over the last 10 years,” Brown wrote in the letter. “I’m sorry the eleventh year did not work out the way we had all envisioned.”

The booster club had functioned for years as an independent organization for athletic fundraising at HCC, but recently was brought under the structure of the HCC Foundation, which has a 501(c)3 nonprofit distinction that the boosters did not, Lowman said.

“We are establishing a committee within the foundation that will work specifically with athletic fundraising,” she said.

HCC’s college advancement office was created several years ago as the formal fundraising arm for the public institution, focusing largely on academic scholarships since the booster club handled efforts on the athletic side.

“Several years back, we began to look at the numbers of scholarships, the numbers of dollars involved in all of this, and we felt a structural change was needed,” Altieri said. “... It became quite apparent that the college had a lot of administrative support for the academic scholarships, but really, the athletic scholarships were dealt with by volunteers.”

Altieri said it became clear that the foundation needed to work on a collaborative merger with the booster club, but the goal was never to do away with athletic scholarships or fundraising efforts.

“In fact, this year, we will award more athletic scholarships in dollars than we ever have in our history,” he said.

Part of the reasoning for a reorganization stemmed from the college’s demographics, Altieri said, noting that only about 2 percent, or about 200 students, of HCC’s total student body of about 7,000 taking at least one credit course are involved in athletics.

Lowman said about 20 percent of the college’s total endowment available this coming school year will go to athletic scholarships, totaling about $60,000 for the 14 intercollegiate men’s and women’s teams.

“It’s not like the athletic scholarships are going to go anywhere,” she said. “Those are designated funds.”


The Tribute

While it wasn’t the root cause for much of the controversy of the foundation’s reorganization, some booster club members felt they were being pushed out of an annual fundraiser that the volunteer group started.

What’s become known as the HCC Foundation’s annual Tribute, the fundraiser began as a “roast” in 2000 and 2001, organized by the boosters and held at an off-site hotel.

In 2002, the booster club asked the HCC Foundation to make it a joint event, honoring former college President Norman Shea as he entered retirement.

Since that first joint event in 2002, the money from the Tribute, which has grown considerably into the six-figure range, traditionally was split 50-50 between the boosters and the foundation to be used for athletic and academic scholarships, respectively.

The 2013 Tribute of Howard “Blackie” Bowen, held in April, was the biggest event yet, raising a net profit of more than $160,000 in a single night for the college’s $10.1 million endowment, Lowman said.

“These are the most successful fundraising events in Western Maryland,” Altieri said. “... To net $160,000 in a single event for scholarships is something the community should celebrate.

“That’s what’s kind of sad about this whole story — we should be celebrating.”

For about 10 years, the money from the events continued to be split 50-50 between the foundation and the boosters, and tributees never questioned it, Lowman said.

That is, until the 2012 Tribute to Don and Jone Bowman, who did not wish to see the proceeds from their event go to athletic scholarships, creating a stir about the former “handshake” agreement of the 50-50 split.

An attempt to reach Don Bowman for this story was unsuccessful.

This prompted the HCC Foundation Board of Directors to formally change the way the 2014 Tribute will be handled, voting in May to set percentages on how the proceeds would be split up.

By a near unanimous vote, the foundation board decided that 50 percent of the net proceeds would be designated by the tributee of the event. After that, 40 percent of the money would be earmarked based on the needs of the college, with the remaining 10 percent being designated to the school’s unrestricted athletic endowment.

“It was never a written agreement anywhere. ... That created quite a stir, as you could imagine,” Lowman said, referring to the reaction from booster club members.

Lowman pointed out that, depending on donor intent and/or college need, that 10 percent for athletics could amount to be much higher in any given year. Additionally, the board also agreed to designate an additional $100,000 from the endowment for athletics in the motion.

Foundation board member Rick Toms, who served as the liaison representing the Hawk Booster Club, cast the lone dissenting vote in the 21-1 decision. Two college trustees, Austin Abrahams and John Williamson, abstained from the vote, according to meeting minutes.

Toms said the booster club “didn’t see anything coming.” He said he felt the boosters largely were left out of the decision-making process to alter the Tribute proceeds.

“To make that decision without talking to the booster club, at least sitting down and saying, ‘Look, we want to go in another direction,’ they just went in another direction,” Toms said.

Speaking on behalf of the booster’s board of directors, Brown said he “felt it was unfair that the foundation was given the right to make the decision about the Tribute when the booster club started it.”

Lowman said the foundation, which employs paid staff in the college advancement office as well as the volunteer board, has carried out the majority of the planning of each subsequent Tribute since 2002.

Brown said the boosters had members on the event committee for years, then foundation members slowly were replacing the boosters on the committee.

“No one ever said a thing to either me or Rick Toms, as he became our representative to the foundation,” Brown said of the situation. “That’s what crushed the deal with the booster club.”

Toms said the booster club co-chaired nine of 14 events, and with 200 total members, many would have stepped up to support the Tributes, if the foundation had asked.

“They wanted us to continue to exist, but inside the foundation, which we made it really clear that we would not do that,” Brown said.

Brown said he felt there was a better way to resolve the money distribution issue, saying they could have met with an arbitrator to come up with solutions to disagreements that arose.

“That did not go down very well,” he said. “As much as the booster club cares, there’s no way I could have talked them into continuing to operate, or move over, and continue to give their time and money” as a subcommittee within the foundation under those parameters.

Asked about claims that booster members felt they were being pushed out of the Tribute, Altieri said “there was no grand plan to do that.”

“I think it came forward to the amount of enthusiasm that existed for those folks to do those things,” he said. The college hopes that senior members of the boosters still might consider being involved in the new fundraising structure, he said.


New structure

Under the new structure of the foundation, a 12-person volunteer subcommittee, known as the Booster Club Leadership Group, will take the lead in athletic fundraising efforts.

Altieri said he welcomes past Hawk Booster Club leaders and members to join the committee, especially because he’s a strong believer in having “memory included with the vision.”

“Because you’ve got to hold on the tradition, and at the same time, you’ve got to move ahead and adjust to the times,” Altieri said. “That’s what we’re trying to do here with the transition.”

In Brown’s letter, however, only one member of the former booster club — Will Shelton, its youngest member — has come forward to express interest in joining the foundation’s advisory group.

“I am sure he will make an excellent addition to your new organizational structure,” Brown wrote in his letter. “We may have one or two more also.”

An attempt to reach Shelton for this story was unsuccessful.

Altieri said he has great respect for Brown and what he’s done for HCC over the years, noting that the basketball court inside the Athletic, Recreation and Community Center still is scheduled to be renamed in his honor this fall.

To illustrate the college’s continued commitment to retaining and expanding opportunities for student-athletes, Altieri said the college currently is hiring a new part-time position in the college advancement office dedicated solely to fundraising for athletic scholarships.

“We want an active presence out there,” he said. “We think there’s a limit to what volunteers can do, and if you’re hiring somebody and they’re getting paid to do it, usually, the productivity and depth of involvement is much greater.”

Lowman said the foundation is in the process of identifying volunteers to join the 12-member board, which will serve as advisers to the college’s paid staff.

“We think this is going to be quite successful,” Altieri said.


No animosity

Altieri said there is no animosity between the college and the former booster club, especially since many of the members of both boards have known one another for decades.

Altieri said he hopes that the reorganization could come through in a “very collaborative way,” but both parties ran into disagreements that couldn’t be settled.

“That’s what made this very difficult,” Altieri said. “It wasn’t a personal thing at all. It was simply a decision that the foundation board made, and the board of trustees sort of endorsed that.”

Above all, Altieri said, the college didn’t want to let the situation “paralyze us for years” or get in the way of the college or the foundation’s mission in educating and assisting students.

Gregory I. Snook, chairman of the HCC Board of Trustees, said he has great respect for Brown and the efforts of the booster club in the past few decades, but the change in the foundation was needed to continue allowing fundraisers to run smoothly, especially the Tribute.

“With the last several Tributes, they’ve been so large, it’s just a thing we’ve outgrown,” said Snook, who was honored himself at the 2008 event. “... It’s just at the point where we have to refine the process a little bit more and make sure it continues.”

Snook said students depend on scholarship money now more than ever, and the reorganization of the foundation is viewed by the trustees as a positive move to do what’s best for the college and its students.

As for Brown, he said he holds no ill will either, and said he isn’t angry at the foundation for the course of events that have taken place over the past eight months as the reorganizational structure took shape.

“As the letter said, we wish them well,” he said. “We’re sure that everything will work out with them. They have a new athletic director. They’re going to take a new direction.”

Brown — a longtime employee of the college, record-setting men’s basketball coach and creator of the booster club — said “nobody in the booster club will ever appreciate the 10 percent deal” or how the new allocation of Tribute proceeds were decided, but he’s proud of what the group was able to accomplish during their time.

“I think it’s a new day and a new era,” Brown said. “It was a new day and a new era when I went there, and it’s a new day and a new era now.”


Past Tribute honorees

2000 — Ron Bowers
2001 — Joe Tischer
2002 — Norman Shea
2003 — Jim Brown
2004 — Merle Elliott
2005 — Nick Giannaris
2006 — John Waltersdorf
2007 — Lois and Dick Harrison
2008 — Gregory Snook
2009 — Bill and Margaret Hetzer
2010 — Richard Phoebus
2011 — Jack and Anna Hershey
2012 — Don and Jone Bowman
2013 — Howard “Blackie” Bowen

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