A month after they won the school’s first football state championship in 25 years, these Central Red Devils have one more challenge with success measured by numbers — and they would appreciate your help.
This time, the mission isn’t scoring and preventing touchdowns; it’s raising money to pay for championship rings.
The rings cost approximately $235 each. So with more than 200 recipients (players, coaches, managers, trainers and cheerleaders), the fundraising goal is $50,000 before the team’s Feb. 10 banquet, where the rings are scheduled to be presented. Roughly $30,000 has been raised, said Phenix City Schools superintendent Randy Wilkes.
“We’re tickled to death by any and all contributions,” he said. “Individuals have done it. Businesses have done it. Groups have done it. We just need more to reach that goal.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Ledger-Enquirer
In a letter to supporters, Wilkes explained the rationale for the fundraiser.
“Please know that every co-curricular organization in the school system is self-sufficient,” he said. “The Phenix City Board of Education does not give money for such operations, nor do most other school systems.”
The budgets for the school’s teams are designed to break even, Wilkes said, and the revenue from the playoffs is shared with the opponents to cover travel expenses.
“For the championship game,” Wilkes wrote, “CHS received a flat payment of $18,000 — no more, no less, regardless of attendance; teams that do not spend the night have funds reduced accordingly. To put it simply, CHS football neither made nor lost revenue spending the night in Auburn nor in playing in the championship game.”
Wilkes added in an email to the Ledger-Enquirer explaining why the school district can’t pay for the rings, “Donations are non-public funds that can be used for such purposes, whereas nearly all other PCBOE or school funds are public funds and must be used for general operations of schools.”
In a phone interview, the superintendent explained what would happen if the fundraising effort doesn’t reach its goal.
“The kids would have to do that fundraising to make up the difference,” Wilkes said. “That fundraising would take away from next year’s budget (for the football team). … It would be an additional fundraiser in a saturated market.”
Wilkes emphasized the rings still would be presented at the banquet because the education-related products design and manufacturing company Herff Jones of Indianapolis will work with the school system on a payment plan.
“We’re going to take care of our kids,” he said, but this fundraiser will determine whether “it’s going to be taken care of now or take six months to do it.” An extended fundraiser into next fiscal year could mean the team would have to cut back on other expenses, such as camps during the summer, Wilkes said.
Calvin Pezes, a Central alumni and avid Red Devils fan, said he had hoped the school would have been able to pay for the rings. However, he supports efforts now to reach out to the community and businesses for help.
Pezes said the community should be proud of having such a successful season.
“We got close last year (to winning the championship),” he said. “ It’s extremely hard to win a championship. (This year) these guys worked hard to finally win it.”
The design of the rings has the Central “C” on top with a football and “STATE” above it and another football and “CHAMPIONS” below it.
One side contains the recipient last name, a football helmet, the 52-7 final score of the championship game and the “1%” motto head coach Jamey DuBose preached, urging his team to get better by at least that much every day.
The other side contains another team motto “FIN1SH” with the numeral 1 in the middle of the word, “2018” and “14-0” for the team’s season and undefeated record, and the Red Devils logo.
The rings will be made of Ultrium, a non-precious stainless metal alloy, and the gemstones will be royal cubic zirconia, a synthetic diamond, said Central principal Tommy Vickers.
“They won’t be real diamonds,” Wilkes said with a laugh.
But they will make a real impact. Just ask Lee Holloway, whose son Drake is a senior wide receiver on the team.
“If I had won just one,” he said with a laugh, “maybe I would have kept it.”
But the one Holloway wears every day, the last one he received, still “brings chills down my spine” when he gazes at it. “It means more than just the value of what it costs,” he said.
So he wants his son to have such a memento.
“Everything you have done — the blood, sweat and tears and the brotherhood and the ups and downs of losing and winning and the friendships you build — when I look at my ring . . . it’s all those things rolled into one,” he said.
In a school where two-thirds of the students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, paying more than $200 for a ring, no matter how special, isn’t possible for some low-income families.
“It’s a big expense for any parent to fork over for their children, not to mention all the people that deserve one,” said Holloway, the area branch manager of PeopleReady, a temporary staffing company based in Tacoma, Washington.
Holloway has been helping raise the money by seeking donations from local businesses. He described his sales pitch when he referred to the team winning the program’s first state championship in a quarter century after losing in the semifinals the previous three years.
“It was the anticipation of every kid, every parent and every citizen of Phenix City that finally came to fruition,” he said. “Who wouldn’t want to support that?”
Then he distinguished between the rings he received and the one for his son.
“My son’s ring will be a community ring, a coming together for the very best,” Holloway said. “… Ours (at Jackson State) was bought by alumni and other folks. But at (the Central team’s) banquet, when we spell out all the various contributors, it’s going to make not only the hairs on the back of their necks stand up, but that will be a story for them to share with their kids and grandkids, that they not only worked for this ring but the story behind it.”
HOW TO DONATE
To help pay for the Central High School football team’s state championship rings, donations can be made online at the fundraiser’s GoFundMe page or by mailing a check, with “CHS championship rings” on the “For” line, to Central High School, 2400 Dobbs Drive, Phenix City, AL 36870.
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.