It’s interesting what brings people together.
When the City of East Ridge condemned the 50-year-old bleachers at Raymond James Stadium in 2015 and that old pile of concrete was razed, it galvanized a group of alumni to step in and build something.
A nucleus of hard-charging grads got together and formed the East Ridge Alumni and Supporters Association. The plan was to raise money and rebuild a stadium. Imagine that.
As I recall, Bobby Hudgens put out the call for anyone interested in helping to meet at a storefront next to Fernando’s to discuss getting this group off the ground. About two dozen very excited people who love East Ridge High School showed up and this organization was off like a rocket.
In those early days, 50 bucks got you a card saying you were a member in good standing. It also got you a tee-shirt. Several tech savvy alums produced a beautiful Website. An alum that knew a thing or two about finance began the process of getting the organization a non-profit status so big money contributions would be tax deductible.
The alumni association put on a golf tournament at Brown Acres. Ringers put together foursomes of their old buddies, some of whom didn’t know the grip end of the club from the business end. But, hey, it was all for a good cause … we need a stadium.
After that first year, the group announced it had raised 50 grand! Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd, he of District 8 and a proud ERHS grad, committed an additional 50 grand of county money. This thing was taking off.
Early on, after the stadium was torn down – by the way the Pioneers went undefeated in the regular season playing on Shanks Field with the hulking, decayed stadium as a backdrop – the county announced it would foot the bill to replace the bleachers at the stadium. The alumni association didn’t miss a beat and announced it would put its resources behind building a field house, which would include a concession stand and bathrooms.
Plans for the field house were drawn up. Alumni enlisted the services of craftsman who were going to do in-kind work on the project with the ER Alumni and Supporters Association being in charge of the whole shooting match.
Then the red tape got in the way. The project, originally estimated to cost less than $300,000, could not be built on city-owned property with a private organization being responsible for the construction. The City would have to be in charge. That meant, among other things, competitive bidding. The cost of construction spiraled and the City sat on the sidelines.
All that early enthusiasm and inertia began to wain just a bit. The alumni meetings became less regular. Memberships ($25 after the first year) weren’t renewed and contact information for members was sketchy. The Website wasn’t regularly updated with new information.
This year the organization welcomed a new president, Danny Gilbert. Gilbert’s something of a legend in Pioneerville; a State Champion wrestler on the 1975 Pioneer team; a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame; a former teacher at the school; a retired administrator for Hamilton County Schools. In short, Gilbert is the kind of man who once he sets a goal he accomplishes it.
Last Monday evening, the alumni association met at Local Coffee on Ringgold Road. Gilbert led the meeting and there was the normal discussions about committees and goals.
But Gilbert, one could tell from the tone of his voice, showed an extra spark. The East Ridge Alumni and Supporters Association was going to redouble its efforts to grow, raise money, support the students and faculty at the school
Gilbert said that the alumni group is much more than a booster club for athletics. He emphasized the organization spending $1,600 to send 40 students to Nashville for a youth government program; the fact that the alumni association intends to spend money to spruce up the electronic sign out in front of the school; and that the association does what it can to beautify the landscape around the old building.
Two hundred current members is not enough, Gilbert said. A school that graduates 200 a year over a 50-year period, well, that’s a lot of potential members. Gilbert wants them in the fold. Gilbert wants to find them and welcome them into the group.
There was talk of more money coming the association’s way through some deep-pocketed, well-to-do alumni. There was information about applying for a six-figure grant through the NFL to get more money for the field house.
On May 3 at 6:30 p.m., the ERHS football team is going to scrimmage with Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe. Prior to the game there’s going to be a tailgate party, and the alumni group will be there with membership applications for those who want to become a part of the organization.
After the scrimmage, alumni from the glory days are going to suit up a for a flag football game.
And, on May 4, the alumni association is sponsoring a work day at the school to spruce stuff up a bit.
If you want to join the East Ridge Alumni and Supporters Association click on this link: http://eralumni.com/Membership/Membership_card.pdf
If you want to get a first-hand look and interact with its members, everyone is welcome to attend the next meeting on May 8 at Local Coffee, 5330 Ringgold Road. The meeting begins at 7 p.m.