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' . . . A Creative Response to Tough Times in Education' : Boosters Turn to Bingo to Offer School Extras

November 28, 1985|DOUG BROWN | Times Staff Writer

As the 78-member Dana Hills High marching band played the fanfare from "Rocky," the 45-member football team dashed onto the playing field of the school's 3,300-seat stadium. Few of the enthusiastic fans at this recent home game probably were aware that the stadium, along with the band's uniforms and many of its instruments, had been purchased with $250,000 raised at the south Orange County school's Saturday night bingo games.

At its Nov. 1 home game, Los Angeles County's Rowland High School formally dedicated its new $685,000, 7,500-seat football stadium with an extravagant opening ceremony. The appearance of the 45-member varsity squad, suited up in new uniforms, was heralded in song by the 150-member choir of the high school located in Rowland Heights in the southeast San Gabriel Valley. The choir, attired in new robes, stood on a new portable stage, their voices reaching every inch of the stadium thanks to a new state-of-the-art sound system. Musical accompaniment was provided by the 135-member band and drill team; they, too, were sporting new uniforms.

Millions From the Game

The money to pay for all this came almost solely from what Rowland High had raised by holding Monday night bingo games in its gym.

Stadiums, uniforms and more have been made possible, according to school bingo organizers, by the millions of dollars Southern California public high schools and their booster clubs have raised in recent years by sponsoring weekly bingo games, usually on campus.

No exact dollar figure is available. School bingo chairmen such as Rowland High's Jim MacCormick willingly disclose only partial financial data, such as the fact that the $685,000 spent on the stadium represents just a third of the money raised during the four years of bingo games at the Los Angeles County high school.

However, he declined to disclose the school's total net income from bingo. "We prefer not to give out figures like that," MacCormick said without elaboration. More forthcoming were bingo officials at Dana Hills High, where it was indicated that Orange County's first public high school bingo games began seven years ago. Since then, about $250,000 has been raised for the school's band and athletic teams, according to Dr. Arthur Smith, a dentist who serves as the school's bingo chairman.

A somewhat smaller sum has been raised by the Cypress High School Athletic Booster Club since its sponsorship of bingo began four years ago, bingo chairman Bill Hannah said.

Whatever the precise figures are, both school bingo chairmen and publishers of the Bingo Bugle tabloids that chronicle the phenomenon agree that the sums are large. Moreover, they say the number of public high schools sponsoring bingo has grown rapidly in the last two years.

"The average net annual income of these games is $50,000," said Don Carrier, co-publisher of the Bingo Bugle of Los Angeles County. It bills itself as "Los Angeles' largest bingo paper" and has a free circulation of 45,000.

The Los Angeles publication is one of a chain of 12 free tabloids in California that cover bingo news and are chock full of ads by game promoters. Another 18 of these publications cover other parts of the country, according to Bingo Bugle spokesmen.

A cursory look at Bingo Bugle's monthly bingo calendars shows that eight of the Southern California public high schools now offering weekly bingo are in Orange County, 10 are in Los Angeles County, three in San Diego County, seven in Ventura County and one in Santa Barbara County.

"You go to these games, and you're blown away by the activity and money flowing through," said Dave Hepburn, recalling the numerous high school bingo games he visited in preparation for setting up bingo at Huntington Beach's Edison High six months ago.

"I'd never played bingo in my life, nor had anyone on the board (of directors of the Edison booster club)," explained Hepburn, a hard-nosed businessman who is president of a Huntington Beach sales agency. "I wanted to find out if there really was any money in bingo, or whether it was just hype."

How have tens of thousands of conventional, middle-class parents found themselves in the bingo business? "It's not really gambling," insisted one mother of an Edison High student, who asked that her name not be used.

Most of them had never played bingo but are used to volunteering a lot of time to the athletic, academic and music booster clubs that support their youngsters' extracurricular activities.

"School districts are strapped for money right now," explained Edison Assistant Principal Brian Garland, who brings a unique perspective to the issue because he also is a member of the separate Huntington Beach City School Board that administers elementary and intermediate schools. "I think this is a creative response to tough times in education."

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