Changing with the times

Lack of numbers presenting challenges for Alpena Boosters Club

News Photo by Jonny Zawacki The Alpena Boosters Club building is seen in this photo. For nearly 50 years, the Alpena Boosters Club has been a mainstay in Alpena County as a supporter of local athletics through fundraising efforts, community service and donations. In recent years, the club’s membership has dwindled from nearly 40 members to just 16. Despite the decrease, the club has continued to do what it can to support local athletics, branching out to get involved in various community projects.

For 47 years, the Alpena Boosters Club has been the backbone of sports in Alpena.

The club is a non-profit organization and plays an important role in sports around Alpena County, raising money and donating it to provide local athletes with opportunities.

For over 40 years, the club has had close to 40 members and as times there has been a membership waiting list.

Times have changed however and the club currently has just 16 members. The sharp decline has impact the club, but has also had an impact on local sports.

“The demise of the club would be horrible for Alpena. The lack of members has made things really difficult, because you just can’t do the same things with 16 members that you used to do when there was over 30,” Boosters Club president Matt Waligora said. “We all get tired and we get burnt out, but in the end, we realize what we do is all for the kids and that’s what keeps us going.”

The Boosters Club started as the Alpena Catholic Central Athletic Association in the 1950s as a fundraising organization for Alpena Catholic Central High School. During that time, fathers of Catholic Central students got together and raised money to fund the school’s athletic teams.

When Catholic Central closed in 1971, the Alpena Boosters Club began afterward. At first, the Boosters Club partnered with Alpena High School and shortly after, branched out to support recreational and youth sports into addition to Alpena’s high school teams.

The Alpena Boosters Club started in 1972 and for over 40 years, the organization has been instrumental in providing athletes and the community an opportunity to participate and enjoy sports.

“Even before fundraising and money giveaways, back in the day, this club did a lot of physical work for the sports systems, helping out with fields before you had contractors to work on some of the fields,” Club member Blair Diamond said. “We always provided a lot of help with organizations needing help with the upkeep of their field, but now we are primarily just raising funds for different sports, teams and leagues.”

According to current Club Treasurer Steve Partyka, over the last three years, a total of $12,000 per year has been given to youth sports. The club used to give an average of $20,000 to $25,000 per year to youth sports when the club was thriving and had fuller membership.

In its 47 years of existence, the club has raised and donated more than $1 million to youth sports according to Diamond, who is one of the longest serving members.

Without the Boosters Club, the community would be missing out on thousands of dollars each year for its sports programs.

“What we’ve done in our rich history and what we have done as a club for the last 50 years and what we have done for the kids of Alpena as far as providing over a million dollars to youth sports across the board is what we are all about,” Partyka said.

The club also awards two annual scholarships to Alpena Community College, which are awarded to Alpena High athletes who will be attending ACC.

Along with money, one of the most important things the club has done for local athletics is donating time to help.

The club has been responsible for building and painting the fence that surrounds Alpena’s Wildcat Stadium, along with donating $15,000 to Alpena Public Schools for the new scoreboard inside the stadium. Members of the club also used to volunteer and work the chain gang during the home football games, but dwindling membership put a stop to that. In the past the club has also helped work the gates for home games and with 50/50 raffles, but declining membership has affected participation in those activities as well.

One of the biggest declines the club has experienced in recent years is the decline in bingo at the club, which is used as a big fundraiser.

“One of the biggest things that started the demise of local bingo, even besides us, is the casinos started popping up everywhere and you have buses that will pick people up in town and take them on trips, along with online bingo as well,” Waligora said. “We still have a really good core of bingo players and we float around 30 players per week on average and it makes enough money for us to keep doing it.”

The club has done its best to find other ways to raise money from being involved in the Flag Project with the Kiwanis Club and doing the concessions at Alpena football and soccer games. The club has picked up food concessions in several places and Fourth of July events always make that one of the more profitable days of the year.

The Boosters Club had strong numbers until the early 2000s and eventually there was no longer a waiting list.

“When we started losing members, we thought we’d get back up to where we were usually at, but once we got down to about 30, I think our hopes of getting back up were no longer realistic,” Diamond said. “We always had a lot of interest in the club, but we had many that just didn’t stay around for long. People moved or got new jobs that didn’t allow them to help as much and our female membership has picked up a little bit which has been beneficial.”

Since the club’s beginnings, the criteria for members once they’ve been inducted into the club includes working bingo, selling raffle tickets and trying to help out as much as possible. The club took a big step forward in 2015 when a female member was welcomed into its ranks for the first time.

“In the last 10 years, most of the members would bring their wives or girlfriends and we just enjoyed time together and began treating them as members, so we opened that up and had our first female members and I think all of us agree that it was best for the club,” Waligora said. “I never thought we would ever get to a point where we only had 16 members and now we’re just looking to get some exposure and we need to let the community know that we’re still here and explain what we do. Anyone is welcome to apply or just come down and see what it’s like.”

Despite lower numbers, the club still plays an important role for local athletics, one that members hope continues many years into the future.

“I don’t think people recognize what it takes to do what we do and who’s doing it. When I joined the club about 13 years ago, there was probably very few members of the club that didn’t have kids participating in sports at that time. Now, there is only one member that has a child playing youth sports,” Waligora said. “The rest of us have kind of aged out so to speak and our kids have grown up and are adults now. It would be really great to get some moms and dads in the club and I know it’s busy, but we all know that and lived that life.”