Bolo ties, cracking whips and cowboy hats replaced the rumbling roller coasters and screaming kids at the Mall of America’s Camp Snoopy on Wednesday night. And along with the outpouring of Western garb, the University Department of Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics lassoed a sizable chunk of money.
About 600 supporters of women’s athletics turned out for an evening that organizers hoped would raise more than $150,000. Proceeds from a silent auction, a live auction and a dinner will help fund the operational costs of women’s athletics.
“It will take generations for (women’s athletics at the University) to be self-funded,” said Chris Voelz, the University women’s athletic director. “But you have to hand it to the University for stepping up and saying (women’s athletics) are right and need to be funded. This event will bring us closer to our being able to do it ourselves.”
Voelz said she fully expects the fund-raising event to meet or exceed the goal of raising $150,000.
The fund-raiser, called Texas Tuxedo for its Western theme, was meant not only to corral money for the department, but also to raise awareness for the achievements of women athletes.
Before organizers took the stage, audience members were treated to a short horsewhip demonstration by Whip Remington and a roping demonstration by 5-year-old Travis “Two-Gun” Tranby.
“We’re gonna add Western flavor,” drawled John Grove, a member of the Old West Society performing group, clad in a marshal’s duds.
During the opening statements, University President Mark Yudof praised the women’s athletic department for maintaining a better than 3.0 overall grade point average and 67 percent graduation rate.
“It shows that there are some genuine student-athletes,” he said.
The idea to hold the fund-raiser, conceived by Voelz, sparked the interest of Yudof and Minnesota Vikings owner Red McCombs. It is the first of its kind in Minnesota.
“This is the largest fund-raiser we have ever taken on,” Voelz said. “They do this kind of thing in Texas, where Yudof’s from, and they thought, why don’t they bring one up here and see if they enjoy it?”
Following Yudof’s opening remarks, a live auction for items such as dinner for 12 at Yudof’s Eastcliff residence, dinner at the governor’s mansion and playing catch with Minnesota Vikings quarterback Randall Cunningham took center stage.
“We’ve got to get you guys drinking,” said Minnesota’s First Lady Terry Ventura at the slow bidding. “This is for women’s athletics. Come on, someone paid $5,000 to play golf with Jesse.”
The evening was the culmination of a week-long effort by the entire women’s athletics department — including athletes.
“It’s been going on all week,” said Lisa Aschenbrenner, a sophomore Gophers volleyball player. “We had clinics to teach children about our sport for two days here at the mall.”
Organizers’ do-it-themselves mentality inspired McCombs to auction off four seats in his private suite for a Vikings pre-season game at the Metrodome. The seats sold for $5,000.
“What I hope to do is put a spotlight on the fact that women’s athletics have been woefully underfunded,” McCombs said.