The Vineyard football team may be on the field for two and a half hours of game time tomorrow, but it takes days, weeks and a year of effort by another team to get them there. The Martha’s Vineyard Touchdown Club, a nonprofit organization, works to get those players onto the field for each of the 10 or more games they play each season. At least 100 students benefit directly from the club, including 72 football players and 28 cheerleaders.
Jack Law of Oak Bluffs has been president of the club for 12 years and has shared the leadership responsibilities with Denise Lambos, club secretary. Through the year, this off-the-field team, made up of a dedicated group of parents, football enthusiasts and friends, raises from $75,000 to $80,000 for the high school sport.
There is a misperception about the Vineyard football team effort that rankles Mr. Law. He often gets the feeling people on the mainland assume the Vineyard team is funded by a bunch of silver-spoon-in-the-mouth wealthy Islanders. “That is the farthest from the truth,” Mr. Law said.
The Island youth sports programs get support from the community — that much is true — but the money comes from many different places and in a variety of ways.
The club held its annual auction on the weekend of Oct. 12 at the Portuguese American Club in Oak Bluffs, and the results were a barometer of the times. “Usually we raise from $15,000 to $19,000. This year the auction raised $5,400. I believe that is a direct sign of the economy. Money is hard to come by,” Mr. Law said.
Mr. Law works at R.M. Packer Co. fulltime. Every August, he takes a week off to prepare for the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair, where the touchdown club runs the popular tempura booth. The booth is manned by volunteers. This year the effort raised $18,000 during the four-day late summer fair. “I’d say we were off by about a thousand [from previous years],” Mr. Law said.
Around Labor Day, the club distributed Purple Pride Cards. The $10 cards offer discounts at 10 local businesses. Sale of the cards, with other support, raised $22,000.
Last Friday, Denise Lambos, Mr. Law and others ran a popcorn stand at the home game. They sold T-shirts, hats and ferry tickets for the Nantucket game, along with sweatshirts and key chains.
The money collected by the club is all put to good use. This fall, the club purchased uniforms for all 72 players. The total cost was $10,000. “They were delivered for the opening day of practice, back in August,” Mr. Law said.
By tradition, graduating seniors keep their jerseys.
The club also helps to underwrite the growing cheerleader program. (This year the high school cheerleader program was expanded to include a junior high school program.)
“The junior high cheerleader parents came to us last football season,” Mr. Law said. He said the parents were running the program themselves and needed help. “They couldn’t do it alone,” Mr. Law said.
The program now includes a cheerleader instructor, Sue Costello, a teacher from the Edgartown School. And the junior cheerleaders have uniforms, thanks to the touchdown club.
Becky Cass is the head cheerleader coordinator for both programs. She said the junior high school cheerleader squad is an important feeder for the high school program. “I started the junior high school program, because I had no pool to pull from for cheerleaders. When I got the girls at the high school they knew almost nothing,” Mrs. Cass said.
The cheerleader group had raised $2,000 this year through the sale of cookie dough, but it wasn’t enough. “The touchdown club put up the initial funds for our uniforms. The football program wouldn’t be what it is today without the touchdown club,” Mrs. Cass said.
The club has contributed to other efforts as well. It spent close to $3,000 this year for required insurance, and advanced $9,500 to book the ferry that will take Vineyard fans to the Nantucket game tomorrow. “We’re selling tickets, we hope to break even,” Mr. Law said.
The club provides steak dinners for the players on the night before a home game. It also provides breakfasts on the day of a home game. Last September the club underwrote a trip for the players to the Boston College Georgia Tech game at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill.
“If we go to the [state high school] Super Bowl, we will buy the kids turf sneakers,” Mr. Law said. If they win, the club will buy super bowl rings for the players too.
And if that is not enough, the club also gives five $1,000 scholarships to graduating seniors.
But despite all its support and traditions, the future of the touchdown club remains uncertain. Mr. Law said every year it becomes harder to enilist volunteers and raise enough money. The number of parents who participate in the program has dwindled.
Mr. Law, 56, is a long-timer, but he credits Mrs. Lambos. “Denise has been working at this the longest. We are the ones who work day and all night,” he said.
Other officers of the club include Tom Pierce, vice president, Katie Hart, secretary, Geri Stabile, treasurer and Beth Kaeka, event coordinator. The club has its own Web site, mvfootball.com.
Mrs. Cass agreed that more is needed.
“We would like to see more members and interested parents helping in the fund-raising efforts,” she said, adding: “You see the same small group of people over and over again at the events. It is the coaches and some parents. It is sad, yet we get a lot accomplished.”