THE SANDPOINT COMMUNITY has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. We live in a beautiful town where friends and neighbors are friendly and helpful, and great organizations are plentiful with committed volunteers doing their part to make a difference in the lives of others.
One such organization is the Bulldog Bench, the booster club for Sandpoint High School whose efforts do much to support youth athletics. While the myth has long been that “the Bench” is a booster club strictly for the football team, nothing could be further from the truth.
“We try to support every sport and fill in where Lake Pend Oreille School District cannot,” said longtime Bulldog Bench member and former Bench President, Bob Witte.
Witte credits Gene Littlefield, who passed away in 2012, for making the Bulldog Bench what it is today. Gene grew up in Bonners Ferry and, after fighting in World War II, eventually settled in Sandpoint. He was interested in meeting new people and attended a Bulldog Bench meeting. “He walked out an hour later and was president,” said Witte of the 1951 meeting. Littlefield continued to be involved with the Bench at some level for over 50 years. “Gene WAS the Bulldog Bench,” said Witte gratefully.
Matt Mire, a former Sandpoint High School athlete, serves on the Bulldog Bench and says it is his way of giving back to his community.
“SHS Athletics helped shape my life, which is why I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to contribute time and energy back into the various programs through Bulldog Bench,” said Mire. “I truly believe in the positive impact sports play in the lives of young people.”
Mire said that while the amount of the Bench’s contributions made to SHS athletics can vary from year to year depending upon the needs, they have averaged between $10,000 and $15,000 annually. But even that has increased over the last year. As budgets decrease, the needs have continued to increase, and fortunately the Bench has been able to fulfill those needs and continues to support student athletic programs.
Their donations over the last year include $700 for swimming caps, $2900 for a volleyball hitting machine, $4800 for an end zone camera for the football team, $2500 for a wrestling dummy, and a recent donation of $4400 for new wrestling mats.
In addition, the Bench also contributed $1800 to various teams and individuals for meals when they travel to State.
But their support does not stop there. The Bulldog Bench also awards annual scholarships to graduating seniors. Each year $500 is awarded to both the male and female athlete who have the highest grade point average. Another scholarship, given to both a male and female athlete, is the David Jenkins Scholarship, named after the Sandpoint resident and Bulldog supporter who died in 2010. In spite of physical challenges, Jenkins displayed the true spirit of a Bulldog, attending as many games as possible and cheering on the young athletes. Many in the community, especially the young athletes, loved him. According to Witte, this scholarship is awarded to both the male and female athlete who best exemplify Jenkins’ spirit.
“It’s not necessarily (awarded to) the greatest athlete, but instead the one who was an active participant and a good role model,” explained Witte.
New last year was the David Lyons Memorial Scholarship. David Lyons was a former Sandpoint High School athlete who died in 2013 while serving his country. The $2000 scholarship award is presented to the student who best exemplifies Lyon’s high moral character and leadership qualities.
So just how does the Bulldog Bench raise its money? Their primary fundraisers are golf tournaments held in both the spring and fall, which have proven to be not only a lot of fun but very successful as well. According to Mire, from those proceeds the Bench pays for the scholarships and the meals first and foremost. “These two areas are automatic for us,” said Mire. “Other requests come randomly as the individual programs have needs that are outside of the normal athletic department budget.”
SHS Activities Director, Kris Knowles, said he is grateful for all the help the Bench provides so that young athletes and their coaches can continue to participate in the activities they love.
“From the school’s perspective we are incredibly appreciative for what the Bench stands for and does for the student athletes at SHS,” said Knowles. “As a support organization, they are top notch. I have seen many booster organizations over the years, and how the Bench does business, their focus on all student athletes and their positive approach is the best around.”
And according to Witte, the organization will continue to thrive for years to come. “The Bench is as strong as it’s ever been. It’s all about raising money and supporting the kids.”
The Bulldog Bench meets the last Tuesday of each month. For more information, contact Jay Vandenberg at 208.290.5796. Also, Bulldog Bench is a 501(c)(3) organization and any donations made are tax deductible.
Donations can be mailed to Bulldog Bench, P.O. Box 2524, Sandpoint, ID 83864.