"I've been at bigger schools and small schools, and sometimes the booster clubs in small towns are like a vigilante group," Miller, McLouth High's athletics director, said. "That hasn't happened here. I think our booster club is great."
It's great at fund-raising. The 1 1/2-year-old McLouth High booster club has raised more than $20,000, nearly enough to fund the school's first baseball and softball teams.
"It surprises us, sort of, but, then again, it doesn't," Kim Nitzsche said. "It's taken a lot of hard work. Somebody asked me, 'Gosh, Kim, how much time do you spend up here, a hundred million hours?'"
The McLouth booster club doesn't have officers. Nitzsche describes herself as the orchestrator and one of the group's most active members.
And she has been active.
The booster club, made up of about 20 families, was formed to bring baseball and softball to McLouth, but its scope has widened in its short existence. The group recently cut a check to buy a new football blocking sled for the middle school, for example, with more projects in the works.
"We've done so well, had such a good response, that we want to do a lot more things," Nitzsche said. "We've talked about supporting the middle school kids, music programs, the arts and theater programs. Sometimes those are areas of the school that don't get funded much. We were initially formed for baseball and softball, but we're ready to do some other things."
The McLouth boosters raised money -- roughly the equivalent of getting 30 bucks from every resident of the city -- in innumerable ways. They sold suckers, cookies and candy at home sporting events. They held a bird-dog trial a few weeks ago and sold snow cones and "trinkets" at Lake Perry.
They held "Kick for Cash" contests at football games and "Dunk for Dollars" at basketball games, ran concession stands and served as home field for the Kansas Plainsmen semipro football team.
"We've done so many things, it's hard to remember them all," Nitzsche said. "Some people have donated money, and some people have donated food and pop. The local grocery guy sells us pop at his cost. So many people have done so much.
"It's just amazing how people are willing to help you out when you explain that all the money goes back to the kids. It feels great to know everybody is so willing to help."
No new taxes
Back in November, 1999, a group of parents approached the McLouth school board about the possibility of starting baseball and softball at the high school. The group was politely told no.
"They said they doubted they'd be able to fit it into their budget," Nitzsche said. "They said they'd love to, but they just didn't have the funds. They didn't want to raise taxes. Nobody wants taxes raised. I know I don't. So we figured out a way to fund it ourselves."
The group was told it would have to raise around $25,000 -- the cost of funding both programs, from equipment costs to coaches salaries, for two years.
Miller, the McLouth High AD who also will become the school's first softball coach, is tickled by the booster club's assistance.
"I think it's great," Miller said. "Originally, we thought it would be for baseball and softball. Our funds are dwindling because of enrollment. It really helps small schools to have that resource."
Nitzsche admits her motives are somewhat self-serving. Her son, 15-year-old Matt, will play on the school's first baseball team this spring, while 13-year-old daughter Emily will have to wait a year to play softball.
"McLouth has always been a big baseball/softball town," she said. "We have one of the most elite fields in the county area. We've always had a strong summer program, but we've never been able to get it in school because of the cost. We've had such a good response to this, we've become really gung-ho about it."
Back in November, 1999, Miller started trying to fill a schedule -- just in case.
"That's one of the things I first started working on, just to make sure it was feasible," he said. "When it came up the first time, they thought maybe we could do it that following spring. As AD, I knew that was physically impossible, so I started trying to get a schedule for this year. The problem with our situation is, we're a small school. Plenty of teams play baseball, but most are bigger schools. For us to play a competitive schedule, we have to travel."
Miller eventually filled a full 20-game season for both teams.
"There are four teams in the Delaware Valley League that have it, and (Leavenworth) Immaculata just started this year," Miller said. "From there, we just had to expand. It's far and wide -- Lyndon, Mill Valley, Central Heights, Eskridge-Mission Valley, Harveyville. We're not adverse to playing 3A or 4A schools as long as we can be competitive. This first year, I was walking with a little trepidation. I have no clue how good the program will be."
The softball and baseball teams will open on March 26. The baseball team -- to be coached by Corey Cole -- will play host to Effingham, while the softball team will travel to Effingham.
-- Associate sports editor Andrew Hartsock can be reached at 832-7216.