Breaking down the Boosters

Kathryn Bartlett, R2 Features Editor & Long Form Investigative Editor

Photo by Laura Ortiz
WHS Varsity Football team running out of the recently purchased tunnel

The quintessential booster evokes the football-obsessed Buddy Garrity from Friday Night Lights, doing everything he can within the rules (and sometimes not) to help the school’s football team be the best. No doubt, football is an important aspect of WHS community life and a sport that the Westfield School Boosters Association wholeheartedly backs, but they adopt a different approach to providing support.

The Boosters is a volunteer, nonprofit organization that provides supplemental funds for WHS athletic programs. Booster clubs are present in many school districts across the country, but what makes Westfield’s organization unique is the fact that they support “ALL WHS athletics,” according to their mission statement, rather than just focusing their efforts on one particular team.

“The beauty of an all-sports booster club is that they’re there for all sports,” explained Assistant Principal and Head Football Coach Jim DeSarno. “When you ask, they’re willing to help.”

As many Blue Devil fans have noticed, one recent Booster-provided addition to the Saturday afternoon home football games is the inflatable tunnel that the football team runs out of at the start of  games. Proposed by Coach DeSarno, the tunnel, the likes of which is often seen at college and professional games, is meant to build spirit before games. “Given that we just redid the stadium, we wanted something exciting,” said Coach DeSarno.

Senior football player Griffin Rooney also feels that the tunnel is a positive addition to the Saturday afternoon home games. “[The tunnel] makes the playing experience much cooler,” said Rooney. “It really hypes us up.”

However, this tunnel has not been met without controversy. Some community members are wondering whether the funds could have been better used for other purposes.

“It just seems unfair to spend money on [the tunnel] when it could be spent on necessities for other teams,” said a junior athlete.

Despite this controversy, Athletic Director Sandra Mamary assures that the Boosters make an effort to stay true to their mission. “[The Boosters] really do try to be as fair across the board as possible,” said Mamary.

Mamary would know, given that she organizes the process for receiving Booster money. If a coach wants to make a request for funding, the request goes to Mamary first. She then examines all aspects of the request, including cost, to decide whether it is something the Athletic Department can pay for or whether it should be put forward to the Boosters.

“I have found that the Boosters really value this school and the athletics,” said Mamary. “I have never been told that one sport can have something that another sport can’t.”

Once a need is identified by the coaches and Mamary, the Boosters go through a rigorous process to decide whether it should be funded. They first look to see if the project meets their mission, which is “to provide financial support needed for projects and equipment.” The final step is a vote among all members.

In order to ensure that they can support all sports, the Boosters fundraise in “myriad ways,” according to Booster Association President Bill Baton. “We have a tremendous product to offer—our athletes,” explained Baton. “They serve as our inspiration.”

Photo by Viggo Jabon
WHS’ Booster-funded fitness center

Each October, the Boosters host an annual Magnet Weekend fundraiser in which hundreds of WHS athletes sell magnets in front of local restaurants and businesses. Additionally, they sell banners to local businesses that are displayed in Kehler Stadium and the baseball field and do a “550 Club,” named after WHS’ address, in which they ask donors to provide contributions to their efforts. Increasing numbers of donors have also been turning to the Boosters’ recently revamped website to support the organization.

Coaches have praised the generosity of the Boosters. “It’s a very open relationship,” explained Baseball Coach Brian Sloan. “I always feel free to ask [for support] and they’ll try to find a way to help us out.”

According to head girls’ Basketball Coach Liz McKeon, the Boosters invite her and the other head coaches to an annual meeting to discuss their teams and how their seasons are going. “At the end of the meeting, they always ask what they can do to support the basketball program and if we need anything,” said Coach McKeon. “We are extremely lucky to have the support system.”

Volleyball Coach Beverely Torok and Softball Coach Caitlin Cheddar also described similar experiences. However, they noted that they are always mindful of respecting Booster resources as well.

“I don’t make a request every season and it’s definitely not something I’d want to abuse,” said Coach Cheddar. “There are a lot of programs at WHS, and I think every team should be thoughtful when making a request.”

The Boosters use the money they raise in a number of ways. According to Baton, one of the Boosters’ proudest achievements is the annual scholarships they allocate to student athletes. Last May, they gave over $50,000 in scholarships to 17 male and 17 female athletes. Additionally, they present an annual award to a senior on each team chosen by fellow team members.

“I love the spirit [of the senior awards,]” said Coach Torok. “It fosters a strong sense of community.”

In addition to these annual projects, the organization meets the individual needs of teams each year, funding new equipment and paying entry fees for meets and tournaments. One recent donation was $5,000 to each of the boys’ and girls’ hockey teams.

Furthermore, the Boosters paid to have a new basketball court installed in the Varsity Gym two years ago. “The old courts were pretty worn down and if you fell, it would hurt a lot,” explained sophomore basketball player Fabrizio Bardi. “I was so happy when [the Boosters] put in the new one.”

The new courts also have benefits beyond playability. “Before the gym was redone, it was really dark and pretty gloomy,” said senior basketball player Ali Lisanti. “It’s so much brighter now which puts everyone in a better mood, making the practices and games so much more enjoyable.”

Photo by Viggo Jabon
Booster-funded upgraded entrance to WHS gymnasiums

Another recent purchase was a new set of helmets for the softball team. “The helmets are awesome,” said Coach Cheddar. “Not only are they really good quality and very safe, but we look like a cohesive team.”

In addition to these small-scale projects, the Boosters fund a major project each year to make WHS athletics better overall. Specifically, within the past eight years, they have been focusing on improving the facilities that the district does not have the funds to upgrade as a whole.

Over the last couple of years, the Boosters spent over $100,000 renovating the main gymnasium. The entrance was also refurbished to house all the trophies that boys’ and girls’ teams have won. Additionally, they funded the renovation of the athletic training rooms, adding new tables to make the rooms function like a real medical facility.

According to Mamary, the most impactful Booster-funded project was the renovation of the fitness center at the high school, which student athletes and all physical education classes use regularly in both practices and classes during and after school hours. “The fitness center has really been a game changer for us,” said Mamary. “It’s ability friendly; anyone can walk in there and find something to do.”

What’s in store for the upcoming year? According to Mamary and Baton, the Boosters are planning to focus on upgrading the fitness center at the Kehler Stadium field house, which will cater specifically to the needs of athletes. Renovation is scheduled to start in the near future.