Originally founded in 1982 to help secure equipment and a stadium for Georgia Southern's renewed football program, Southern Boosters, Inc. has evolved into a formidable fundraising arm for Georgia Southern's athletics department.
The organization which has 50 board members hopes to raise more than $2.5 million for GSU athletics during the 2008 - 2009 academic year. John Mulherin is president of Southern Boosters. He said the mission of the nonprofit organization has expanded greatly since the early days of its inception when Morris Lupton served as its first chairman.
"The focus in 1982 was to help raise money for the football team and build a football stadium," Mulherin said. "Regulations would not allow Georgia Southern University to do that on its own accord. It needed a mechanism to do that, and this organizational structure is now used all around the state by universities and colleges to secure financing to build stadiums, dorms and the like. It seemed like a maverick move at the time, but it has proved to be a very good one."
Mulherin cites the work that is currently underway at Georgia Southern athletic facilities. "The Boosters are completing work on the university's new golf facility on Hood Road," he said. "It is the sixth best collegiate golf practice facility in the country. We are also renovating the football team's practice fields."
"We have always focused on helping the university build and renovate the athletic facilities that it needs for its athletic programs," he said. "But we have really begun to focus on raising more money for athletic scholarships."
Mulherin cited the new "rings and diplomas" campaign that the Southern Boosters has launched.
"We want all athletes that come to Georgia Southern to have the chance to win a championship ring and to earn their diploma," he said. "This goes for all athletes in each of the 15 sports supported by the athletic department."
Georgia Southern has 380 athletes participating in university sanctioned, conference sports today. Of the athletic scholarships that are given, Southern Boosters funds 50 percent of those.
Current Georgia Southern Boosters board chairman Phil Moore said the focus of the Boosters has become more philanthropic in the last several years.
"We want to change the spotlight from the 'game day' experience to supporting the Boosters organization for the right reasons," Moore said. "The vast majority of our athletes will not make a living in athletics. It should be about enhancing the university through positive athletic experiences for our athletes and the fans that cheer them on."
Moore said that he and Mulherin are the beneficiaries of a lot of "spade and shovel" work done by those that came before them.
"I could sit in this position and serve as a caretaker of the past and what Georgia Southern athletics has been able to accomplish since the Boosters was created," he said. "But, I don't want to be a caretaker. We need to look at where we are going, where we are headed. From possible reclassification to adding more sports and upgrading and building facilities, Georgia Southern's athletic program continues to get better and better on a lot of different levels, and we are so proud to be a part of that continued success."
Mulherin said sometimes people don't understand that scholarships themselves involve real money changing hands.
"Once you offer a student athlete a scholarship, the athletics department has to pay for that scholarship," he said. "It isn't some sort a transfer on paper. That money has to be raised. An out-of-state scholarship is about $12,000 per year. In-state is $8,000. It is a lot of money."
Southern Boosters raises revenue primarily through football parking sales, stadium box rentals, and donations. "We don't receive any money from ticket sales or concessions," Mulherin said.
Dublin resident Mike Cummings served as chairman of the Booster's board prior to Moore. "I am really proud that we have continued to raise more and more money each year, even during tougher economic times."
Cummings said the board is comprised of GSU supporters from each geographic region of the state. "I am their guy in this community. It is my job to go out and engage folks in Dublin and seek their support for GSU athletics and the university in general. I am very proud to be a part of and to be associated with Southern Boosters."