Organizers of the FCA All-Star Football Classic are already hailing the inaugural event a success, counting the fundraising dollars and planning for next year — even before tonight’s opening kickoff.
The game, which is set to start at 7 p.m. at Pioneer Valley High, pits a team of graduating seniors from the seven PAC 7 and Los Padres League teams in San Luis Obispo County against their seven counterpart schools from Northern Santa Barbara County.
Decades since area programs have been involved in such a game, coaches have tossed around the idea of engineering one for years.
As it’s turned out, addressing the dearth of all-star football has also provided a clever backdrop for a massive fundraising effort.
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“There was an obvious need to be able to get these kids out there and play football against each other,” said Pat Cusack, a former St. Joseph standout and local businessman who helped spearhead the planning.
“Is there something we can do to have an all-star game? It’s just odd that it went this long without getting one. It was hard to bring to fruition.
“We hope when it’s all said and done that we raise over $150,000 and everybody gets a little piece of that pie.”
Northern Santa Barbara football programs have been involved in a North-South all-star game put on by the Suburban Kiwanis Club of Santa Barbara for the past 43 years, but that game hasn’t been a satisfying option for Santa Maria-area schools, let alone the SLO County teams being left out.
“Our kids in Northern Santa Barbara County don’t have rivalries with the teams from Southern Santa Barbara County,” said organizer Greg Dickinson, who coached 13 seasons at Righetti and Pioneer Valley.
Dickinson said the topic has been a popular one among the local coaching fraternity.
“Year in and year out,” he said, “we’ve been talking about it, but nobody really had the time and energy to get it going.”
After coaching the Panthers since the program’s inception in 2004, Dickinson stepped down prior to this past season to focus on becoming a credentialed school administrator.
Suddenly, one of their own found the time to help start an all-star game.
Dickinson helped rally the coaches and form committees to organize the game, and Cusack, whose son K.J. starred for the Knights before redshirting at Cal Poly last season, began the search for sponsors.
The general manager at Santa Maria Honda, Cusack sold fellow auto dealers the idea of each of them donating $2,500 toward a car voucher that could be raffled away.
Selling raffles tickets at $20 and game tickets at $10 apiece in advance of the game, the effort has already raised more than $110,000, Cusack said, which is being funneled through the nonprofit Fellowship of Christian Athletes to ensure it will be directly awarded back to the football programs at each of the 14 schools.
Dollar for dollar, organizers said, whatever was raised by each football team during the presale will go back to that program, while the walk-up gate will be split equally.
The FCA is also providing insurance coverage for the game.
“The athletic community, the business community and the Christian community are all teaming together to make this happen,” said FCA Central Coast Area Director Luke Llamas, a former Cal Poly runner who competed in five national championship events for the Mustangs’ track and field and cross country teams.
“We did a lot of groundwork this year trying to establish the relationships and bless people that are involved rather than take from them.”
The secret that seems to have finally made the game a reality, organizers said, is the symbiotic relationship between its benefactors.
On the ground level, spectators are more willing to donate given the chance at winning $25,000 toward a car purchase at one of the 13 participating dealerships. Raffle ticket sales will continue during the game with the winner determined at halftime.
For their pledges, the dealerships have each received plugs on KCOY TV, which offered to donate free airtime in exchange for exclusive rights to roster announcements.
There were also significant donations from CHW Hospitals and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. Donations of equipment and food have also poured in from local businesses.
Cusack said he already has half of the participating auto dealers committed for an all-star game next year, when Dickinson hopes it can be played at Cal Poly’s Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
“The community has just supported it whole-heartedly,” Dickinson said, “and that’s just encouraging as a coach and as a guy who for so many years spent so much time fundraising. For once, we have a fundraiser that’s actually fun and relevant.”