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1207 PD: Dairymen boost collegiate football fundraising

Published on 30 November 2007

If you have been to a Boise State football game, or any college football game, you know there are a lot of tailgaters enjoying themselves before the game. Boise State University has its own special tailgating group – the Bronco Dairy Boosters. This group of 150 to 200 dairy producers has made a big splash for Boise State’s fundraising efforts and has started a tradition that has enhanced one of the Western Athletic Conference’s premier rivalries.

“I’ve always enjoyed college football,” said Dan Van Grouw, a dairy producer in Idaho’s Treasure Valley. “It’s just fun. I like tailgating and when the [rivalry] got so heated up between Boise State and Fresno State, I got talking with my brother who is down [by Fresno State]. We thought we could make this into something bigger.”



Van Grouw and other dairy producers from western Idaho held tailgate parties at Boise State home games. Van Grouw held season tickets for 12 years, and the dairymen had an RV parking spot in the main parking lot. As the crowds grew, the dairymen found themselves in different locations each week at the Boise State home games. In 2004, they decided to get organized and raise money for the football team in exchange for a more permanent tailgate spot. Bronco Athletic Association Executive Director, Bob Madden, asked how much they thought they could raise. The dairymen said they could raise $20,000 the first year. Madden offered them a great location for tailgating – in front of the Allen Noble Hall of Fame. The dairymen responded by raising $45,000 in 2005. The next year, they raised $65,000 and in 2007 the Bronco Dairy Boosters raised $107,000. All of their fundraising money goes to the summer scholarship fund that aids Boise State in recruiting.

To raise most of the funding for the scholarship, the dairymen hold an annual dinner and auction. Invitations are exclusive to dairy producers and agricultural professionals. Attendees are charged $100 a plate and then they bid on prizes and packages. At their last dinner, Van Grouw estimates they had 140 attendees at the dinner and auction.

“We have our dinners right there in the Hall of Fame,” Van Grouw says. “The response has been awesome. What has helped us so much is the vendors and the sponsors from around here. We get them to donate a fishing trip or feed or something to our fundraiser and it sells for $5,000. The vendor pays $500 to get two tickets and their name in the program.”

The Bronco Dairy Boosters admit that fundraising is hard work, but they say it’s easy to get support for their dinners and tailgate parties because sponsors get such good exposure.

“It’s been good timing because Boise State is getting good and then they won the Fiesta Bowl,” Van Grouw says. “I was involved in the games and tailgating and thought we could get some sponsors for our tailgate parties. Once it got going I told our sponsor, ‘Look around you and look how many cows are represented here.’ It’s a no-brainer. Now we have sponsors waiting in line to sponsor a tailgate.”


The Milk Can Trophy

Fresno State also has a dairy booster following that has raised more than $700,000 for its hometown school. Fresno State’s dairy boosters have been organized since 2001.

The two booster clubs collaborated to start a tradition that adds a new dimension to the competition between their two WAC teams. It’s the Milk Can Trophy.

In 2005, Van Grouw and Roger Fluegel, a dairyman in Visalia, California, decided there should be a trophy for the winner of the annual Boise State and Fresno State football game. Fluegel brought up the idea of using an old-fashioned milk can as the trophy because most people recognize it. Both agreed it would be a fitting tribute to the dairy industry in California and Idaho, the No. 1 and No. 4 milk-producing states in the nation, respectively.

Where are the dairy boosters?

Most schools, however, don’t have a specific dairy booster presence. Representatives from the University of Minnesota, Penn State University, Cornell University and Utah State University said their athletic programs didn’t have a specific booster club for dairy producers, but they also said they were confident that dairy producers were contributing and had been for 20 to 30 years. Each school mentioned that they would be glad to help anyone that wanted to contribute to their schools’ scholarship funds and booster clubs.


“If we know of someone that has a passion for the university and wants to contribute, we would try to accommodate him or her as much as possible,” says Joe Quinn, associate development officer at the University of Minnesota.

How can producers get involved in booster clubs?

“They would have to go in to the athletic department and say, ‘We want to be involved,’” Van Grouw said. “They need to have a plan for how to raise money.”

But it’s not all about money, either. The Idaho dairy boosters have found ways to get into the university’s weight room and promote their product, too. They supply 10,000 pints of chocolate and strawberry milk to athletes each year.

“I called the Idaho Dairymen Association and asked them to get a refrigerator and put milk in it,” Van Grouw says. “The weight coach Tim Socha said, ‘Hey this milk is great for our athletes after their workout.’ Now the United Dairymen of Idaho is putting milk in the weight room. It promotes everybody drinking more milk.”

A positive view for the industry

“We haven’t done much, but it’s become something big,” Van Grouw said. “Boise State puts a banner up on the scoreboard during the second half of each game saying “thank you” to the Bronco Dairy Boosters. What do you think that does for the dairymen? It’s awesome. I think it gives people a positive view of the dairy industry, more than just fields of manure and stinky cows. We are businessmen.” PD