By ERIC PLUMMER
SANDPOINT — From a local business winning a car last year and donating it back, to John Q. Public who buys a $5 raffle ticket or two, it’s pretty tough to beat the homespun support that the community of Sandpoint pays to its local high school football team during their annual fundraising car raffle.
After winning a fully-restored, shiny blue 1966 Mustang C-Series car last year, Les Schwab Tires in Ponderay decided to donate it back to the Bulldog football program, which just recently raffled it off yet again.
This time the winner of the classic car was local Stephanie Aitken, whose ticket was picked out of thousands of others on Sunday during Lost in the 50s. The gesture by Les Schwab ultimately produced one of the most successful fundraisers in the 10 years the program has raffled off a car.
Second year Bulldog head coach George Yarno was simply blown away by how much support he’s seen from all walks of the community, calling it unbelievable.
“We’ve got much appreciation for Les Schwab. All the businesses and community members give and give and give,” marveled Yarno. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s huge, you don’t hear about it very often.”
Les Schwab has been donating the tires and wheels for the car raffle for all 10 years, and usually buys $500 in raffle tickets on top of that.
After they won the Mustang last year, former Les Schwab manager Larry Enright and current manager Matt Pond talked it over and determined the right thing to do was donate it back for the next raffle, more than doubling the value of one car for the fundraiser.
Pond was an employee at Les Schwab more than a decade ago when former coaches Satini Puailoa and Chris Lassen first approached the local tire business for help. They have stepped up and delivered every year since, but the most recent donation went above and beyond.
“I was an assistant there when they brought the first one to us,” claimed Pond. “Do what we can to support the community and the kids. You’ve got to support the community that supports you.”
Lassen, who has volunteered countless hours behind the scenes for all 10 car raffles over the years, has a huge appreciated for what Les Schwab has done to support youth football in Sandpoint.
“Whatever I asked for, they provided,” said Lassen. “Without even blinking an eye.”
Stephanie Aitken bought a couple books of raffle tickets for $100 each from her son Jake, who plays football for Sandpoint, as well as a handful of others here and there. She was used to paying junior tackle fees for Jake, so she figures she’d put the same money into the Sandpoint football program.
While she was excited to hear that her ticket had been drawn, it paled in comparison to her son.
“Jake was jumping up and down,” she described. “He somehow thinks this will be his. This is his dream car.”
Bill Aitken said his son has wanted a Mustang since he was young, and chuckled when mentioning that Jake will be taking driver’s training in the fall.
“He’s been talking about a blue Mustang with white stripes since he was 8 years-old,” recalled Bill of his son. “He has a model of a very similar car, same color.”
The money raised will be used to update equipment, and pay for food, camps and travel among myriad other expenses. Yarno didn’t give an exact figure, but called the raffle “very successful.”
All of the community support will only help the Bulldogs put a better product on the field in the fall, when they christen a brand new set of bleachers at Barlow Stadium.
“Running a program is expensive,” admitted Yarno, noting the money helps for safety. “We don’t buy anything less than 5-Star helmets, and top of the line shoulder pads and girdles.”
Yarno wished to thank the Sandpoint YMCA Grid Kids Football League, which he called “my feeder program,” for helping run the raffle and sell tickets, which also cuts down on the fees the younger athletes have to pay.
He also wished to thank Andrew Fingel and Napa Auto Parts for donating the parts to fix and beef up the motor, Joe Duarte at Bulldog Automotive for rebuilding the motor, and major sponsors Litehouse, Puckett and Teague, NAPA, KG&T Septic and his mom Cynthia Yarno.