Columbia Heights Athletic Boosters keep youth activities alive

The Columbia Heights Athletic Boosters Club has been working to keep youth activities available for all children for decades.

The Boosters is a nonprofit volunteer organization that helps to fund youth activities within the community. No matter the sport, club, or activity, the Boosters were created to help.

The club began in 1955 when a group of volunteers came together with a mission in mind. They were dedicated to make it possible for all youth to participate in activities, regardless of financial means. Since its beginning, the Boosters have been committed to this mission. From providing funds for uniforms, registration fees, equipment, or other youth activity needs, the Boosters help all children in youth organizations.

Runners take off at the Columbia Heights Athletic Boosters Heights Hustle 5K on June 24. The annual event is held in conjunction with the Columbia Heights Jamboree and helps to raise money for the Boosters Club. (Sun Focus photo by Sarah Burghardt)

“Basically, if there are children in Columbia Heights that want to take part in a youth activity, we want to make sure that happens,” Athletic Boosters CEO Kevin Gilbertson said.

Community needs

The Boosters meet monthly to discuss requests from different organizations in the community. Many traveling athletic groups and activities are arranged through the Columbia Heights Recreation Department. The Boosters have contributed to tournament registration, equipment, help with field maintenance and uniforms. Besides athletics, the Boosters have been able to help with other Rec. Department needs, like the Mill Street Players summer community theater.

In addition, the Boosters contribute to activities in the Columbia Heights School District. They help with equipment and uniforms, as well as help support groups at the schools including the Spanish Club at Columbia Academy.

The Boosters support larger projects including the recent contribution to the Ramsdell Park ball field. The Boosters matched a contribution with the Minnesota Twins Community Fund to improve the ball field with an extended dugout, roof tops, customized logos and artificial turf. The combined $12,000 helped to make the ball field look and feel like a professional area for Columbia Heights athletics.

When the CHHS boys basketball team made it to the state tournament earlier this year, the Boosters helped fund the buses to transport students to the Williams Arena at Target Center for the game. Each student also received a t-shirt to show off their ‘Heights pride.’

“It was great to see because half of the basketball court was blue and gold because they were supporting heights, so it was money well spent,” Gilbertson said. “They would have had to find that money in their budget someplace else and maybe taken away from a different program, because you don’t know who’s going to state every year, so I’m glad we were able to help in that way.”

CHHS wrestling coach Alex Wong got involved with the Boosters when he first took on the role and saw a need to revamp the wrestling program. Wong approached the Boosters to receive some funding to replenish some equipment and uniforms.

“That’s when I started to get involved,” Wong said. “I started having more of an appreciation for what they do.”

Columbia Heights Athletic Boosters CEO Kevin Gilbertson standing in front of a customized backstop windscreen at Ramsdell Park. Earlier this year, the Boosters matched funds with the Minnesota Twins Community Fund to contribute a total of $12,000 to improve the ball field. (Photo provide by Columbia Heights Public Schools)

Wong now sits on the Board of Directors and said that he wants to make an initiative to get more coaches from the high school involved within the next year.

“If you’re going to be building activities and sports programs at the high school level, I just feel like it’s a no-brainer to participate in the Athletic Boosters program,” Wong said. “I think its a fantastic opportunity to just be involved and give back to the community that I grew up in.”

Wong added that it is essential for the Boosters to be there as a resource.

“I think its vital because Columbia Heights is a very diverse city, as far as culture and income levels and things of that nature,” Wong said. “There are a lot of families in our community that can’t necessarily buy or afford their children’s activities fees. It’s a vital lifeline as far as a lot of the good things that the city provides.”

Raising the funds

Much of the donations that allow the Boosters to fund activities comes from charitable gambling. From pull-tabs to different raffle events, gambling is the biggest piece that makes these donations possible.

The Boosters is a two-prong organization. With its nonprofit status, funding from gambling is raised for its lawful purpose gambling fund to be given to youth organizations by request. These donation requests must meet state statute criteria for the types of organizations that can receive funding, in this case, youth activities within the community.

Other activities, including the annual Heights Hustle and golf tournament, raise money for an operating fund. Profits from the hot dog wagon also contribute to this fund.

Youth groups have the opportunity to work for donations by running the wagon or working bingo nights as a team. This is an incentive to give teams additional ways to raise money for their group.

A need for volunteers

With any volunteer organization, core members age and there becomes a need for a new generation to take the reins.

“We have to have people that are willing to pick up the mantra of that mission and carry it forward or it will go away and that’s a huge concern right now,” Gilbertson said.

Wong added, “The only way [the Boosters] will continue to grow for future generations is having people involved at every generational level and having everyone voice their opinions and ideas. That’s a critical part of keeping this club alive.”

There is also a need to get the diverse population involved to share input and ideas.

The combined $12,000 from the Columbia Heights Athletic Boosters and Minnesota Twins Community Fund allowed the CHPS Athletics and Activities Department to improve Ramsdell Park. These improvements included extending the home dugout, adding roof tops and custom logo windscreens on both dugouts, customizing the backstop and adding artificial turf inside the batting cage. (Photo provided by Columbia Heights Public Schools)

“So far, it’s been hard to get those smaller communities within the community to get involved with the Boosters,” Gilbertson said. “But we want their input.”

Gilbertson said different perspectives are valuable to the Boosters and wants people to feel comfortable to get involved with the group. As a group that helps the community, the Boosters want input on funding needs in every aspect.

“Right now it’s a very narrow perspective because it still goes down the line of what Columbia Heights used to be,” he said. “Our community is well-rounded but there are little pockets in our community that are hesitant to mesh. We want to bridge that somehow.”

Youth activities for all

The Boosters make youth activities possible for all children and teens in the community to take part in. Participation in group activities is also important for children as they grow up.

“There’s so many things that can be gained from group activities,” Gilbertson said. “Not only does it give them somewhere to focus their energy, it gives them a place to learn how to deal with others, or learn about different nationalities and cultures.”

Get involved

Boosters treasurer Karen Schultz has been involved in the group since her children were in athletics in the early 2000s. Although her kids are grown, she continues to volunteer her time to help the Boosters and knows the importance of the organization.

“Getting your kids involved isn’t just to keep them out of trouble,” Schultz said. “It also gives parents a chance to get out and know other community members that you may not have met before.”

Schultz moved to Columbia Heights from Duluth and said joining the Boosters was a great opportunity to get involved.

“I was able to get to know the older generations of the community and their families,” she said. “It really has been such a great experience.”

Gilbertson said that with any volunteer organization, there is a perception that people will get roped in to things.

“That’s not the case,” he said. “I encourage everyone to come and see what’s going on with the Boosters.”

“We want people to know that there are ways to get involved, ways to share your ideas, ways to share your concerns, to help so your youth are able to be involved as well.”

For more information, visit www.chathleticboosters.com or attend a monthly meeting to see what the Boosters are all about. The next Boosters meeting is scheduled at 7 p.m. on Aug. 16 in the lower senior room at Murzyn Hall, 530 Mill Street NE, Columbia Heights.

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