Students Run High School Tourney

November 18, 2015

Every other year for the last 12 years, the Upstate Challenge has been one of the highlights of the high school baseball season in suburban Chicago. It began as a way to increase inter-conference competition and has become a showcase event, giving student-athletes and fans the opportunity to experience a minor-league style atmosphere in a top-flight venue. 

It’s also been a learning laboratory for students at West Chicago High School, whose Head Coach, Dan McCarthy, runs the event with the help of the sports and entertainment management class that he teaches. “I give the students a lot of ownership, provide them with responsibilities and duties, and I think they really benefit from it,” McCarthy says. “When they see themselves pull it off, they feel good about themselves.”

McCarthy’s class, which meets during the spring semester every other year, has done most of the preparation for the event. The first step was raising start-up funds. 

“If you’re going to put on an event, you need some financial backing,” McCarthy says. “So the students established a $70 start-up fee for each member of our class.” 

To meet their quota, the 27 students sold ads in the event program and solicited items for a raffle held during the tournament, such as gift certificates and sport memorabilia. The students used the income from ad sales to buy promotional materials, like programs and T-shirts, while raffle item money went to the net proceeds along with admission fees.  

“Meeting that $70 commitment is the most difficult task for students,” McCarthy says. “They wonder if they can raise their money by the deadline so we can start purchasing the things that we need to prepare for the event.”

Once the ball was rolling, the students got busy. “I supervise and help out if they’re struggling, but the students do an awful lot,” McCarthy says. “They came up with a number of projects, like fundraising during games. The raffle idea was something they created this year. It would be too much work to do on my own.”

In addition to designing and selling T-shirts and creating the event programs, students worked with the school’s art department to make flyers and posters, collaborated with a broadcast communications class to film a promotional video, wrote a press release and contacted the media, and put together gift baskets and prizes for the raffle. Students were each required to work one day at the tournament, taking admissions, manning the raffle table, and running the fan contests that occurred after the first, third, and fifth innings of each game. 

The busiest members of the class were the two students on the baseball team. “Obviously the players had to be there Friday for our game, and we got back home around midnight,” McCarthy says. “Then they had to be back at the park to work the event on Saturday.” 

The event’s proceeds go to charity. McCarthy usually lets the students choose the recipient, but this year, he made the decision himself. 

“We hadn’t given to the V Foundation yet, and I knew a lot of kids had family members affected by cancer,” he says. “Plus, a former athlete of mine, Terry Gannon, played for the late Jim Valvano at North Carolina State.”

Every participating team purchased T-shirts adorned with the V Foundation logo and wore them for pre-game, which gave a sense of a larger team effort for the cause. McCarthy arranged for Gannon, now an announcer for NBC Sports, to write a letter of thanks to the students, and the V Foundation sent a representative to personally accept the check for the $13,500 raised by the event. 

The 2015 event was the biggest so far, including eight teams instead of four and featured two days of doubleheaders. It was held at Benedictine University, a local NCAA Division III school whose field includes lights, a video board, and seating for more than 1,000 fans. Although each team plays only once during the event, McCarthy says the atmosphere has kept teams coming back year after year. 

“It’s a unique setting for high school players,” McCarthy says. “Every school that participates always enjoys it. It’s something to look forward to.”

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