All Aboard: Private Donors Help Fund New Dashboard Installation at Thirlby Field | Local sports

TRAVERSE CITY – Finding the right words to describe what it means to be a part of the Traverse City Central football community is difficult for Mike Schmidt.

It takes a few beats before finally choosing one.

“Family,” he says. “It really is like a family.

While this may sound cliché to some, it isn’t for Schmidt, who spent summers cooking burgers and hot dogs for his two sons, Grant and Parker, and their Trojan football teammates in his garden.

Schmidt’s sons are third-generation center footballers. His father, Ken Schmidt, performed in the 1950s and Mike performed in the late ’80s and early’ 90s with Matt Bourdo – whose son, Carson Bourdo, now plays for the classified Trojans by the State alongside Grant and Parker.

The word “family” is therefore far from being exaggerated.

“Playing in this program has changed all of our lives,” Schmidt said.

For some, just one year in Trojan football can be life changing. Just ask Steve Smith, whose grandson Peyton Smith transferred from Ithaca High School to Central for his senior year in 2019 and is now a red-shirted freshman quarterback at the University of Michigan. .

Smith described this year as something out of a storybook or a movie.

“All of the kids, the coaching staff, the administration, all of the parents and grandparents – the whole community – made us feel like we were already family,” Smith said. “They were so good to us, you could hardly believe it.”

For everything they received, the Schmidt and Smith families wanted to make sure they gave back.

And give back that they did – in a big way.

Those who glance up at the new jumbotron dashboard at the east end of Thirlby Field will notice two last names: Smith on the left and Schmidt on the right. The pair donated $ 100,000 each to help build the $ 450,000 giant, with the remaining quarter million dollars raised through grants, other private donations and advertising sales.

“We thought it would be something that would continue to give generations down the line,” Schmidt said, adding that the new scorecard goes beyond Central as athletics Traverse City West and Traverse City St. Francis also use the field.

The project was set up fairly quickly, and faster than expected.

Traverse City area public schools superintendent John VanWagoner said discussions over a new scorecard intensified in the spring, but the COVID-19 pandemic previously made progress difficult. The belief was that all the money – the full $ 450,000 – had to be collected by mid-July if there was any chance that the board would be ready for the football season. fall.

Although the Schmidt family had already pledged the $ 100,000, the deadline came and went. VanWagoner figured they would have to wait at least another year and design a fundraising plan to put everything in place.

“So I gave up for a month, maybe even two months. I thought that was it,” VanWagoner said. “All of a sudden I get a phone call from Mike and Ken Schmidt who told me there was another man who was interested in sponsoring the board. “

Smith was that gentleman.

“I wanted to help do it now, not in a year or two,” Smith said. “I want these kids who played with Peyton, these big kids, to have something – something like that.”

Smith had previously purchased a similar dashboard installed at the Ithaca Community Stadium, and his professional relationship with Daktronics, the makers of the dashboard, helped speed up the process.

“I got hold of Daktronics and I said, ‘Hey, come on. Let’s make this thing happen, ”Smith said.

Once Smith was on board, it only took three weeks to raise the rest of the necessary funds thanks to a donation of $ 37,500 from the Art and Mary Schmuckal Foundation and the sale of advertisements.

Schmidt called Smith, who happens to be his neighbor, a “complete blessing.”

“He made it work,” Schmidt said. “It’s a great family and great people.”

Even with the cash in hand, VanWagoner believed that setting up the scoreboard before October 1 – week six of the football season – was “nearly impossible”. They did better than the impossible and had him prepared for Week 5 for West’s 40-0 win over Alpena and St. Francis’ 48-14 win over Boyne City.

“A lot of people came together with donations and even some of the work needed to set it up,” VanWagoner said.

Donors and others who helped build the scoreboard were honored at Thilrby Field last week ahead of Central’s 56-13 beating against Brother Rice. VanWagoner said the TCAPS board will recognize them at a future meeting as well.

“It’s amazing,” VanWagoner said. “It almost creates like a college stadium environment.”

The project, which was fully funded without a single taxpayer dollar, continues a long tradition of improving Thirlby Field through private donations.

Diane Portenga was part of Between The Fences decades ago when Thirlby Field was completely renovated and rebuilt to what it is today. The recall club helped raise almost all of the funds needed to get the job done. Jim Ooley, who was Traverse City’s football coach at the time, gave the audience the final push needed to cross the proverbial goal line.

“There was no money for the school system at that time,” Portenga said. “What it showed then – and what this (dashboard) shows now – is that if the money can’t be collected through taxes, maybe it can be collected through taxes. people’s generosity. We don’t have to be content with not being able to do it.

Portenga considers these efforts to be major positive points for the community.

“We ended up having a lot of people who maybe weren’t what you would consider ‘footballers’ or ‘parents of footballers’ – I was not a parent of footballers – to support him,” he said. said Portenga. “It is a testament to how our community can respond to a need or a desire. “

The scoreboard is not likely to sit dormant when football is out of season. Other sporting competitions, including lacrosse, are held at Thirlby Field. VanWagoner thinks this will be great for fan band shows and would even come in handy during the Traverse City Film Festival or other film-like events in the park.

“He has endless opportunities,” VanWagoner said. “We are delighted to have him.”

About Irene J. O'Donnell

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