Nov 092006
 
Authors: Mathew Planalp

They can be found before practice and after games. As autumn weekends give way to cool winter nights, Ram athletic donors attend university football, volleyball and basketball games, willing their favorite athletes and coaches on to victory.

The majority of CSU athletic boosters may not be known nationally, but they are appreciated here. Loyal boosters support the CSU athletic program with their hearts and their wallets.

“It’s a chance for me to give back to CSU, for all it has done for this community,” said Rod Bryant, a Ram Legacy member for the past five years. Bryant – an employee at Gregory Electric Inc. of Loveland – has paid scholarships for former Ram football standouts Joel Dressen, Bradlee Van Pelt and David Anderson. He currently funds scholarships for CSU running back Kyle Bell and volleyball player Jaime Strauss.

“Helping pay for athletic scholarships has given me a certain sense of satisfaction,” Bryant said. “Getting to know student-athletes on a personal level is very rewarding.”

Rod Bryant didn’t attend CSU, or even graduate college. However, he’s now a successful member of the northern Colorado business community and a loyal Ram fan. For Bryant, pledging his loyalty is not a task, but an honor. It’s a chance for him to establish a rapport with students, coaches and alumni.

It is a chance to experience college.

Bell, the Rams’ featured running back before being sidelined with a knee injury, described being chosen by Brant for a scholarship as humbling.

“It’s an incredible honor,” Bell said. “His commitment to the program’s success and to our community is tremendous.”

Donors like Bryant feel the need to represent their community – they appreciate the idea of universities as businesses vested in their communities. They acknowledge the university’s far-reaching goal as a provider of education.

“Donating is an opportunity to give back to the community, to support the educational endeavors of young people,” said Marcia Donnan, a Ram donor for the past 30 years. She and her husband Jerry contribute annually to CSU’s general athletic scholarship fund.

“We donate to be a part of the Ram athletic, Fort Collins and Colorado communities,” Donnan said.

CSU’s athletic department has begun to rely specifically on individual donors. Last January, the athletic department asked individual donors to designate funds to cover family travel for coaches to the 2006 Poinsettia Bowl, although the athletic department has traditionally been successful in raising private funds for such expenditures.

Notable donors

Low-profile heiress Pat Stryker has made significant financial contributions to CSU athletics over the past two years. The local businesswoman has made a point of improving the quality of life at CSU and around Fort Collins using funds obtained from the Stryker Corporation – a medical supply company founded by her late grandfather Homer that began selling hospital beds.

In 2004, Stryker gave more than $20 million to CSU – the largest ever cash gift to the university – $15.2 million of which was earmarked for renovations to Hughes Stadium.

Through the Bohemian Foundation – her family’s private foundation – Stryker’s gift allowed the Rams to install artificial turf at Sonny Lubick Field, expand club-level seating and suites, add additional north-side stadium seating and a giant video scoreboard on the south end of the stadium.

Earlier this year, Stryker also made a contribution to the Holly and Michael Hammerschmidt Fund in the wake of their mother’s death. Karen Hammerschmidt, the 37-year-old wife of current Ram offensive coordinator Dan Hammerschmidt, passed away in January following a battle with breast cancer. Stryker also allowed CSU football coaches and staff to use her private jets to fly to Karen Hammerschmidt’s funeral in Texas.

In April of 2005, current Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker and former Ram defensive end Joey Porter pledged his support to CSU athletics, making a $250,000 donation to the football program for upgrades to the team locker room in Moby Arena – later renamed the Joey Porter Locker Room. New features include a lounge, TV sets, rubberized floors and new showers.

But for the majority of athletic donors, their charity is a story of love, not money. Their generosity arises from a need to integrate themselves into the fabric of their university. Donors feel the need to encourage CSU to recognize its potential for greatness, both on and off the field.

The dark side of donating

Like other CSU donors, Bryant and Donnan are hesitant to call themselves boosters. The image of boosters bribing current and prospective players with money and gifts bothers many Ram donors. They are quick to point out that no CSU player has ever been accused of taking gifts as a reward for their play.

But numerous university athletic programs tiptoe around embarrassing allegations every season. They oversee teams dependent on a growing number of athletes, financed to a large extent by private donations. Poor behavior can ensue, practiced by players, coaches and recruiters.

Before the start of the 2006 football season, former Oklahoma quarterback Rhett Bomar and offensive lineman J.D Quinn were dismissed from the Sooners’ football team for receiving extra compensation related to their employment at a local car dealership.

Last season, Ohio State starting quarterback Troy Smith was suspended for the Alamo Bowl in December for taking money from a booster, only to be reinstated after paying $500 restitution to a local charity.

The Illinois football program is currently serving a one-year probation for payments and other benefits a booster improperly provided for recruits.

Here, donors spend Saturday afternoons meeting coaches, athletes and other supporters of CSU athletics. Game day is a time for networking and deal making. It’s a time to make business connections.

During the “fifth quarter” in the Hughes Room, the luxury boxes at Hughes stadium provide a meeting ground for current and prospective donors. “It has given us the opportunity to meet and acquaint ourselves with CSU community friends, otherwise our paths may have never crossed,” Donnan said.

“We are very grateful to be a part of CSU athletics,” she added.

Mathew Planalp can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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