February 20, 2007

Varsity Teams Call Alumni in Annual Phonathon

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Cornell athletes wrapped up their annual phonathons last week. Over 5,000 alumni, parents, and friends of athletic programs were contacted by Cornell athletes.

Each night for the past six weeks, Cornell athletes have manned phones in Ives 111 to solicit donations for their teams and connect with friends of their programs. Over 3,000 alumni pledged specific amounts of money to a team, including graduates as young as the class from 2006.

Most of Cornell’s varsity sports participated in the phonathon, as well as several club sports, Cornell Outdoor Education and the Big Red Band. The money pledged to each team goes specifically to that team.

“Each team has an annual fundraising goal,” said Peter Orscheidt, the Associate director of alumni affairs and Development for athletics and the overseer of the student-athlete phonathon program. “The money pledged goes directly into each team’s account, and it counts toward that goal. The fundraising money goes to operating expenses, including travel and equipment.”

For most teams, coaches take on the responsibility of organizing the team and making sure volunteers arrive to call.

“The coaches deserve a tremendous amount of credit,” Orschiedt said. “They do a lot of work to make sure that everything runs smoothly when their night comes.”

For club teams, student leaders organize the phonathon to ensure that it runs smoothly for the team.

“It’s definitely a larger burden for the student run teams,” said JP Madarasz ’07, captain of the student-run club ski racing team. “The students are putting in the effort and the time. We don’t have the luxury of a coach or a paid employee to organize or arrange anything for us.”

Most teams had no trouble getting athletes to come and call to support their team. As many as 80 athletes called from each team, as was the case of the varsity football team over the course of two nights.

“It was fun,” said Heather Sherman ’10, an athlete on the varsity equestrian team. “Only a few hours out of our night really helped the team.”

Orschiedt said that some teams brought in considerably larger amounts of money than in previous years. He named the varsity field hockey team, varsity softball team, both varsity lacrosse teams and all three varsity crew teams as particularly successful this year.

For smaller club teams like the ski team, every dollar counted.

“A couple dollars here and there really helps the team,” Madaraszsaid. “The majority of our pledges are small amounts, but we appreciate every dollar. I don’t know if the larger teams do that.”

The total amount pledged this year still has yet to be tallied. Last year’s phonathons brought in more than $611,000 in specified pledges, the eighth consecutive year that the student-athlete phonathons set a new record.

For some teams, an annual letter writing marathon is held instead. The varsity swimming and diving teams have been writing letters instead of making calls for years, and this year was the first that the varsity sprint football team did the same.

Regardless of the method, fundraising efforts provide a bridge for student athletes to connect with friends and alumni of their respective programs.

“We try to focus on the connection between the students and the alumni,” said Orschiedt. “To me, that is the beauty of this program.”