CHESTER - Six weeks ago, the Oak Glen Junior Bears were seemingly facing a third-and-long scenario over how to pay for their home games at the new Oak Glen Multi-Sports Complex.
Use of the stadium for Sunday home games costs the non-profit youth football team, and all other non-school organizations, $500 per event, according to a fee schedule recently revised by the Hancock County Board of Education. Team leaders were left wondering how they would come up with the $2,000 to cover four games.
Suffice it to say they're wondering no more.
FUN RIDE — Hanna Patterson, 11, of New Manchester, rides the mechanical bull at Saturday’s Oak Glen Junior bears fundraiser and community day at Chester City Park. Proceeds will help the private youth football team offset the cost of playing at the new Oak Glen Multi-Sports Complex. Each use of the football stadium costs the team $500. -- Stephen Huba
After the team's concerns were made public, several local businesses and individuals stepped forward to cover the stadium fee, Junior Bears Commissioner Chris Skeeles, of New Cumberland, said.
"All our games are paid. Everything has turned around for us," Skeeles said.
The jockeys at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort covered two games with a $1,000 donation, the Bloody Buddy Fight Series contributed $500 and an anonymous donor gave another $500, Skeeles said.
"It's been pretty much the whole community coming together to help," said Melisa Michael, a Chester mother of two Junior Bears.
The donations mean that the Junior Bears can use their fundraisers to pay for such things as cheerleader uniforms, football gear and the season-ending banquet, Skeeles said.
The organization's largest fundraiser, held Saturday at Chester City Park, doubled as a community day because of the outpouring of support, Skeeles said. "It was just a way to give back to the community," he said.
Saturday's event featured games, provided at a discount by Kurt James Fun & Games, food concessions, a dunk tank and a golf ball drop from the Chester Volunteer Fire Department ladder truck. The latter raised $2,000 for the Junior Bears and earned $2,000 in winnings for Jason Juszczak, who donated $500 back to the team, Skeeles said.
Organizers said they were pleased with the turnout at Saturday's fundraiser and with the recent expressions of support.
"It's a relief that people step up and a joy that people step up and take care of the kids," Skeeles said. "It's not just about the football. It's about the kids. Period."
Prior to the completion of the Oak Glen Multi-Sports Complex, the Junior Bears played at Newell Memorial Stadium. Team officials said they covered the cost of maintenance and cleanup but otherwise didn't pay anything for the use of the Newell facility.
When they learned in August that use of the new stadium would cost $500 per game, Junior Bears leaders were incensed.
"I knew people were upset about the kids paying the fees," Skeeles said. "I understand there are costs in running (the stadium), but with the people stepping up, it's just a burden off the organization."
School district officials say the $500 fee is necessary to cover the costs associated with operating a state-of-the-art facility - things such as maintenance, use of the scoreboard, lights and public address system, and cleanup.
Even so, news about the fee galvanized public support for the Junior Bears, so much so that Chester City Council even discussed whether the city should make a donation. Council ultimately took no action.
With the home games paid for, the Junior Bears should have enough money to cover other expenses. Skeeles said a new helmet can cost $60 and a new pair of shoulder pads anywhere from $40 to $60. With 80 players on the Junior Bears' three teams - bantam, junior varsity and varsity - that adds up, he said.
"We try to keep it where we don't have a lot of big expenses each year," he said.
Future home games are at 1 p.m. Sept. 30 against Mingo and 1 p.m. Oct. 14 against Steubenville. The Junior Bears are part of the Steel Valley Football League. Players range in age from 7 to 13.
(Huba can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)