Acting as One

January 29, 2015

When it comes to large fundraising projects, combining student-athletes from a couple of athletic teams often leads to success. Get the football and basketball teams together and the annual car wash triples its profit. Combine the wrestling and softball teams for a lift-a-thon and there is some great comradery. But how about partnering athletes with students involved in theater?

At Hazel Green (Ala.) High School, that scary scenario turned into a fantastic fundraiser last October in which baseball players and drama students teamed up to create a haunted house Halloween attraction for the community. The event brought in over $9,000 and bridged gaps between two very different groups of students.

T.J. Orr, Head Baseball Coach at Hazel Green, came up with the idea during a workout session with other teachers. "Clint Merritt, the head of our drama department, and I were at the gym, and fundraising came up," he says. "We started talking about how it would be neat to do an event together. The idea for a haunted house was mentioned, and it evolved from there."

The first step was getting the two groups of students to buy in to the idea of working together. "When we started planning, Clint and I didn't think there would be any major conflicts between the kids," Orr says. "But we soon realized their personalities clashed. The baseball players didn't understand how to appreciate drama, and the theater students didn't get the competitiveness and intensity of baseball."

In response, Orr and Merritt organized activities to help the two groups bond. "The baseball players did improv at the first meeting," says Orr. "During a second gathering, the theater students completed a P90X workout with the baseball players.

"The third meeting was the best," he continues. "Clint had the students portray coaches and administrators from the school. He told the kids, 'You're Coach Orr, you're [Assistant Baseball] Coach Weeks, you're the principal, and you're the athletic director. You have just caught a student skipping class. What do you do?' They liked making fun of us and from that point forward everybody clicked."

From there, the group began planning the specifics of the attraction--what scenes would be included, what they would look like, how many actors each needed, how many ticket-takers and parking attendants to find, and so on. Orr and Merritt soon realized they would need seed money to construct the scenes and turned to the students' parents, who formed a Promotions Committee. By soliciting local businesses, the group brought in $4,500 in sponsorships.

"We gave every sponsor tickets for their personal use as a thank you for donating, but we also provided them with ticket packages to sell that would cover their contribution," Orr says. "For example, if a sponsor donated $300, we'd give them $300 worth of tickets free of charge to sell in their business. If they sold all the tickets, they'd break even."

A paintball facility offered its 100-acre wooded lot as the site for the event, which was dubbed "Haunted Woods in Howell." Eleven live scenes were constructed and staffed by the Hazel Green baseball team and drama program. Many referenced popular horror movies like Saw, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Silence of the Lambs, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Almost 1,500 people attended the attraction, which was open during weekends in October. After expenses, each group earned $4,600. Orr's squad is putting the money toward building a new field, while the theater department is using the funds for transportation to competitions.

Encouraged by the community's enthusiastic response, and no longer facing the burden of start-up costs, Orr is looking to repeat the event next October. He's confident his players feel the same way. "It was a little rough early on, but once the kids bought into working together, they had the time of their lives," he says. "I expect this will be one of their great memories from high school."
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