Monday, May 9, 2011

Rethink the NYI Booster Club

I’d like you to take everything you’ve heard about NHL Booster Clubs and put it aside for a few minutes. I’m going to tell you what I have come to know in the six years I have been around the NYIBC.

I can’t help but have a soft spot in my heart for the NY Islanders Booster Club for many reasons. In 2004, I took a page from Stan Fischler’s biography and decided to join the Booster Club, offering my services to write for their newsletter. I did the interview recap articles, taking two hours of Q&A and trying to make it something you could read. Two hours of interview would take me eight hours to work up. It was grueling, but enjoyable.

However, joining served a few selfish purposes. First, it gave me somewhere “official” to write about the Islanders and develop a style. Secondly, without the Booster Club, I would have never been able to speak with Mike Milbury about my NHL 7th Man prize award (or lack-thereof), which he took care of. Next, being a member of the club gave me access to information impossible to obtain anywhere else.

Case in point: In 2005, Brad Lukowich told the club that there wasn’t enough communication between the players. “No one talks,” he said. Being the world’s oldest living hockey intern, I emailed Stan Fischler that statement. He used it in his “Blue Lines“ column. Brad was promptly shipped out the next week. I always felt responsible for that.

You see, like Vegas, what happens at the Booster Club meeting is supposed to STAY at the meeting -- something I learned the hard way. It’s a place where Islanders players, coaches and management (especially the GM) come to answer questions in a more relaxed atmosphere. That usually brings out things they would never say to the press (or the pseudo press). This is a place where their real personalities can shine through and answers are less filtered. In return, they expect it not to end up in print anywhere else but the Booster Club Newsletter, which only goes out to the hundreds of members near and far. (There are currently 17 out-of-State members and 210 active local members.)

This is the place you will find the most diehard Islander fan. For their loyalty and dedication, one night a month, from October to May, they meet at the Marriott in the shadow of the Coliseum and are entertained by a special guest from the Isles organization.

Sometimes it could be a young player just starting his career, a seasoned veteran, the ‘face of the franchise,’ the team’s broadcast voice, the General Manager or (the most entertaining) Shaky Krause, equipment manager with his bag of tricks and detailed information. (Jason Blake had to have a new pair of ‘footie’ socks before every game, Jon Sim never wore socks at all, and Rick DiPietro only chews ‘squirt gum’ that they had to order by the case.)

The club members get to ask whatever they want and then have a chance for autographs and photos.

Long before I had a seat in the press box, I had a seat in the front row of the amphitheater listening to the likes of Mike Milbury, Aaron Johnson (remember him?), Steve Mears, Jeff Tambellini, Steve Stirling, Ted Nolan and countless others. I missed out on the Zenon Konopka meeting, where I’m told he spoke for an hour and a half straight.

I often think the guests are really amazed at the amount of knowledge and recall the club members have. This week, when General Manager Garth Snow made his third appearance, he not only took questions from the floor, but he also received detailed analyses of players’ problem areas backed up by specific game data to prove the point.

Wow. Men and women, young and old, these fans know their stuff and make their feelings known. And they travel! Whether it’s a planned club bus trip or individual members traveling to support the Isles in enemy territory, they are there for them.

Getting up close and personal with your hockey team is priceless, but in reality, it only costs $22 a year for adults, $17 for teens (age 13 – 18) and $12 for kids (ages 4 – 12). Want to make it a family affair? Pay $22 each for two adults and take $2 off for each teen or child. Kids get the biggest kick out of asking their favorite player a question, and getting an autograph, a photo and a smile.

But the entertainment isn’t the most important part of the monthly meeting. No. If you ask Rose, she’ll tell you how proud she is of the club membership for their amazing contributions to charitable organizations. Rose repeated the list for me on Tuesday.

“In October, we collected school supplies for John Thiessen Foundation. In November, we collected 400 lbs of food for Mary Brennan Inn in Hempstead. In January, we recycled cards for St. Jude’s Children’s Ranch. In February, we collected 111 DVDs for our Vets and made their honor roll. In March, it was children’s Band Aids for the Sasha Cohen Foundation.”

As much as that is, that’s not all. Every meeting, they have a 50/50 raffle and the proceeds go to the Make a Wish Foundation, the Boy Scouts and various other charities.

While there may be an off season for the Islanders, there isn’t much of one for the tireless efforts of the board members. They set up a booth for membership application at the draft party, get together for a Long Island Duck’s game over the summer and some even attend the NHL Booster Club convention.

Understand that NHL Booster Clubs are actually very important to the sport. Where would the Coyotes be without their Booster Club? Winnipeg. Look at Hartford -- the Whalers STILL have a Booster Club even though they don’t have a team!

When I asked the NHL Commission what he thought about the role of Booster clubs in the NHL, he said “Fans form a close relationship with their favorite team and with each other. Those connections can last a lifetime, can span a variety of experiences -- at the arena and away from it. Booster clubs bring an additional element to this sense of community. When there are charities to be supported, when there is enthusiasm to be mustered, when there is any statement required to confirm a personal commitment that goes far beyond the purchase price of a ticket, it is the booster club member who steps forward. Everyone in the National Hockey League appreciates and celebrates that special bond."

Speaking of Phoenix, Heather Schroeder from the Coyotes Booster Club had this to say:
“The Phoenix Coyotes Booster Club is a fan club and a non-profit. We plan activities to support the Coyotes and their efforts to get out into the community, as well as our own fun events like tailgate parties, viewing parties and our end-of-the-season party where we invite a few players to hang out with us for a while! We raise money for Coyotes Charities, and this year alone we donated almost $10,000 to help them support children’s charities in Arizona. We have 350 members from all over the US and Canada and even an Air Force family in Europe who want to stay in touch with the Coyotes and do what they can to support the team from afar. We have had a close relationship with the team and the NHL, and we are here to do whatever the team needs us to do, from helping sell 50/50 tickets during games to filling the Glendale City Council Chambers for meetings to support keeping the team in town. Most of all, we are here to have fun and howl for the Coyotes!”

But not every team follows this template. This year’s feel-good story is the Nashville Predators as they have made it into the second round of the playoffs for the first time. But when I asked Mark Willoughby (@TheViewFrom111 )about their club, I was surprised to find out -- they don’t have one. No. They don’t need one because EVERY fan is involved.

“The Predators took a different tack with a Booster Club option, and it’s one that I like. Anyone that comes to a game can leave an e-mail address with any employee and they are automatically put on mailing lists for any event. Tonight, there is an open house for all fans where they can tour the locker rooms and workout facilities and about any other area of the arena. All fans were notified by e-mail. The approach has been to be all inclusive and use social media and the team Web site to promote events and activities. For instance, Game 2 of our series with Vancouver spawned seven different viewing parties around town at various sports bars and restaurants. Each venue had several hundred people show up. All was announced via twitter and the Web site of the Predators, and was open to anyone.”

Interesting, but not the way we do it here on Long Island.

So when you think about the Booster Club, think about the good they do not just for their team but for the community, and also think about how cool it would be to spend a few hours a month with one of your favorite players. Then think about dropping an email to this address for an application. or contact them by mail at NYIBC PO Box 502 Hicksville, NY 11802-0502.

Next season starts in June with the draft. We have faith that it will be a shining season for the Islanders. How much do YOU want to be part of it? $22 worth? Small price to pay don’t you think?

So here’s to the Booster Club Board Members and their tireless efforts for team and community: President - George Schutz, Exec Vice Pres. - Jill Kozik, 2nd Vice President - Ron Kind...Treasurer - Rose Muller, Secretary - Claire Harding, Charities - Rose Muller & Jill Kozik, Constitution - Bruce Schneider, Historian - Jean Nebiosini, Membership - Claire Harding, Webmaster & Newsletter - Gary Harding, Publicity - Donna Coughlin, Trips - Ron Kind., Convention -Larraine D'Errico and Seargent At Arms - John D'Errico.

1 comment:

Neil Mairs said...

You should burn that picture of you with Milbury Dee! If I lived closer I would join.