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Leveling Playing Fields

‘CHS Sports Night 2006’ grosses more than $100,000 for Churchill athletics.

Even without a new wave of Hall of Famers, Winston Churchill High School was able to raise funds for several of its top athletic needs.

For the second straight year, Churchill’s boosters organized a gala fundraiser at Bethesda Country Club. Last year’s event was centered around a Churchill Athletic Hall of Fame induction ceremony that included Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Dhani Jones (Churchill ‘96).

This year, there was no Hall of Fame ceremony, but more than 250 people attended “CHS Sports Night” on March 10, a turnout that topped the previous year’s event.

“It was just such a great success,” said Rich LaFleur, a Churchill parent and booster and event chair. “It was just great to see so many parents and coaches cutting across every sport.”

In the week following the event, Churchill’s boosters continued receiving contributions from more than 50 families who were unable to attend the event, and before a final count was possible, LaFleur said it appeared to gross between $100,000 and $110,000, and will likely net $75,000-$80,000.

“Some of the people, their kids don’t even go to school here yet, and they’re at the gala,” said Pat Fisher, Churchill’s athletic director. “It was nice to see everybody on a social level.”

THE LIVE AUCTION featured a chauffeured night on the town and dinner at Citronelle in Washington; airfare and accommodations anywhere in the 48 continental United States; and a diamond necklace.

Just like last year, the auction item that garnered the most buzz was a guaranteed parking space in Churchill’s student lot. “This is priceless,” emcee Topper Shutt said as the bidding began, and he wasn’t too far off the mark. After bidding ended for one space, Churchill Principal Joan Benz announced that three more were available — the four spaces ultimately sold for $3,500 apiece.

LaFleur said it’s a good return for the school for investing a small percentage of student parking spaces. “That pays for a lot of field maintenance,” he said.

Last year, LaFleur and other members of Churchill’s booster club felt that the condition of the school’s sports fields had grown dangerous.

Churchill’s football field had an unbroken swath of mud at midfield running from end zone to end zone. The varsity field hockey team shot and passed amid divots and mud holes throughout the season.

One year later, the stadium field (home to football as well as boys and girls soccer and boys and girls lacrosse) sports a brand-new Bermuda grass surface. The field hockey team also plays on a restored field, with grass that could almost pass for a putting green. Last year’s Churchill Hall of Fame gala raised $140,000 that helped fund new Bermuda grass fields.

New fields require vigilant maintenance, and that was one of the primary goals of this year’s fundraiser. Game Day, the contractor that installed Churchill’s stadium grass and also maintains the athletic fields at Walt Whitman and Thomas Wootton high schools, will maintain the Churchill fields.

“They’re going to be our watchdogs,” Fisher said. She wants experts to oversee the school’s investment and prevent the new field from suffering the same fate as the old one. “They’ll be able to spot the problems before we do.”

Proceeds from Sports Night will also go to some of the teams that were not beneficiaries of last year’s event. The track team, with more than 100 students in the spring season, needs a new discus cage. Volleyball needed a new judge’s stand, and wrestling needs new uniforms.

COHOSTED BY LaFleur and Churchill Booster Club President Carolyn Mattingly, CHS Sports Night also featured WUSA-9 meteorologist Topper Shutt as a guest emcee and professional standup comedian Roger Mursick.

Mattingly said she’s prepared to support Churchill on a different level next year, after her daughter Christin has graduated, but the family will be supporting Churchill sports for years to come.

Craig Weisbaum, a Churchill ‘78 graduate, produced a video featuring interviews with Churchill student-athletes. Junior Evan Farha described how much he learned and gained from playing varsity football, senior Christin Mattingly described the friendships she made playing three varsity sports each year.

“It was very tender, and it just touched your heart,” said Fisher, who coached the varsity softball and girls basketball teams until she became athletic director this year. “It was just kids being kids.”

Churchill’s boosters also paid tribute to the Churchill ice hockey team. While not officially a school-sanctioned varsity sport (it is a club sport), Churchill students have fielded both a varsity and junior varsity team for more than 10 years. The Bulldogs also happen to be state champions. They beat Severna Park in the Maryland Scholastic Hockey League championship game last month.

Hockey coach Ray McKenzie and Bob Roseman, MSHL director and a co-founder of Churchill’s hockey team, received and read a letter of congratulations from Washington Capitals captain Jeff Halpern, who grew up in Potomac and attended Churchill for a year before going to boarding school in New England.

LaFleur grew up near Dallas, Tex., where it went without saying that schools’ athletic programs would be sponsored in full by the school budget. Around this area, community fundraisers are the reality for schools that want to fully fund their athletic needs. LaFleur points to Walt Whitman and Thomas Wootton high schools, both of which needed community support to install new stadium fields in the past two years.

“It’s just a commentary on the lack of funding that schools have to go out and raise money like this,” LaFleur said last month. “We certainly don’t appear to be alone.”

Like several other area schools, Churchill has had to enlist community support to keep playing conditions safe and provide teams with essential or up-to-date equipment.

“The great thing about this annual event is that it served to replace what couldn’t be accomplished by 100 smaller events,” LaFleur said. “You can wash cars until your arms fall off … and never get to that same [funding level].”