Elder Grove wanted to offer more student athletic programs, but they didn’t want to use taxpayer money that could be put toward education.
Community donors could end up getting the first game ball. About $10,000 from 15 local businesses or donors have the K-8 district on track to field a football and cross-country team that school officials hope to start next school year.
The project was spearheaded by Dominick Vergara, the school’s new assistant principal, activities director and health enhancement teacher.
“That school enthusiasm with football and cross country, that’s important,” he said, “(but) we can’t say that football is more important than hiring a special education teacher.”
Instead, he started reaching out to local businesses and community members.
“It allows us to build relationships with other businesses, other schools,” Vergara said.
Natalie Warnick’s family is one of the donors. She has three children who attend Elder Grove, all of whom are involved with athletics. The school currently offers boys and girls basketball and girls volleyball.
“Elder Grove is growing,” she said, and with growth she hopes that students have new opportunities.
The district had 370 students during the 2010-11 school year, according to Office of Public Instruction records. Vergara said they have about 530 students enrolled this school year. Much of that growth is in younger grades; 20 fifth-grade boys went out for the basketball team, enough for two squads, while fewer than 10 eighth-graders participated.
“We needed more chairs for the bench,” said Vergara.
That kind of growth spurred him to create the Elder Grove Activities Sponsors and Boosters Program. Those who donate to the program can get a sign bearing their name on the gym wall.
Warnick supported the programs because she believes athletics are an important part of kids' school experience.
“I think it creates confidence,” she said. “I think life lessons are learned.”
Vergara hoped that other parents would chip in to the program. New teams give her, and other Elder Grove parents, something to cheer for.
“Football brings people together and unites the community,” Vergara said. “It really allows that school spirit and the identity to take shape.”
As for the cross-country team, “we have some phenomenal runners,” he said.
The school also redesigned its logo as part of the expansion with help from Mojo Graphics of Red Lodge.
Almost all of the money needed to start the programs has been raised — it costs about $318 to suit up each football player — but Vergara said that other logistical elements, like scheduling, also need to fall into place. He hoped that “a great rivalry” could emerge with other schools like Lockwood, which added a middle school football team this year.
Funds also need to be raised to keep the program going and replace worn equipment, and the school would like to create a football field in a few years.
“Now the real work begins as far as continuing it and moving it forward,” Vergara said.