FORT MILL TOWNSHIP — A football coach, a doctor and the county coroner walk into a bar...It’s not the run up to a joke but a preview of one of the biggest community events of the year.
The popular Dancing with the Stars fundraiser for Fort Mill School District middle schools sports returns for a second year with new local celebrity dancers and a bigger fundraising goal than last year.
The fundraiser pits well-known area residents against each another in a dancing and fundraising competition to see who will win the coveted mirror ball trophy. The event will be held 6 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Glennon Center in Tega Cay. Proceeds go to the Fort Mill School District Athletic Board, which funds middle school sports programs in the Fort Mill School District.
Event organizers announced the celebrity dancers last week. Slots are still available for other local celebrities to join in, event co-chair Lisa McCarley said.
Dancers scheduled to perform are Michael Allen, Nation Ford High School football coach; Sabrina Gast, York County Coroner; Dr. Ansley Hilton, of Rock Hill Gyn-Ob; Dr. Michael Riordan of Riordan Orthodontics; and Tega Cay Mayor George Sheppard.
Despite having “not a dime” of dance experience, Gast was excited to participate in the fundraiser. She has a son who participated in middle school sports when he was younger and a daughter who is currently involved in middle school sports.
“It’s an important component to teaching our children how to work together. It builds character and strength and prepares them for the rest of life,” Gast said.
Gast has been practicing her dance, the foxtrot, twice a week since she signed on to compete. After years of campaigning for office, she’s used to being in front of crowds, but admits dancing in front of one will be a new experience.
“The only thing I’ve ever done was that I tried karate as an adult. But dancing? I’ve never danced. This is new. But I’ve enjoyed it so far,” Gast said.
Sheppard confessed to having no dance experience either.
“Only at weddings, bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs,” he said.
Sheppard plans to showcase the South Carolina state dance, the Shag.
“I’ve come to realize that my knees actually do bend,” he joked.
He’ll be practicing weekly at Checkers with the Lake Wylie Shag Club, and daughter Emma has already started picking out the perfect bow tie for him to wear to the Dancing with the Stars event.
Joking aside, Sheppard said raising funds for middle school sports is something he takes seriously.
“Sports programs are important to all students, but particularly those in middle school because it’s the developmental start of a high school career in sports,” Sheppard said. “Without middle school sports, a lot of kids wouldn’t have an outlet and something to do. It’s an outlet for kids that needs to be supported and I applaud the parents who came up with alternative way to fund this program.”
Last year, the event raised $10,000. This year, organizers hope to raise $15,000 to $20,000. Each year, the athletic board raises $60,000 to fund middle school sports. Funding for middle school sports was cut by the school district in 2010. Parents formed the athletic board to keep middle school sports alive in the district. Payments are made twice a year, 50 percent to the district in January and the remainder in August.
The athletic board has been fundraising year ‘round but can’t collect enough for a fund balance. Members hope to be able to raise enough money to have a full year’s worth of expenses in the bank at any time as a backup.
More than 1,200 athletes participate in middle school sports in the Fort Mill School District.
“We’ve been making it,” McCarley said. “It’s not doom and gloom, but we can’t ever sit back and relax.”
Dancing with the Stars is one of the athletic board’s major fundraisers of the year. The other is the annual golf tournament, held in the spring, and a sports physical clinic held in the fall.
While some of the athletic board’s fundraisers, like the clinic, specifically target athletes, Dancing with the Stars is a fundraiser she hopes will appeal to the whole community.
“There are life lessons sports teach children, and teach all of us, about winning and losing and working together as a team and being a leader, but more than that it’s having an outlet for children at a critical age in their life to feel a sense of belonging and making a difference to their school,” McCarley said.
“And even if you’re not involved in the sports program as an athlete, it still involves the school for spirit, pep rallies, watching the games. It gives the school something to fight for together. It’s hard to get kids to come to a pep rally for end of year testing. What else do you get them excited about if you don’t have an athletic program?”