EAST LAKE — Kathi Hejl strolled around the parking lot at East Lake Fire Station No. 57 with a batch of red tickets in her hand.
She offered tickets for a donation over the joyous sound of laughing kids, chatty vendors and a rumbling fire engine. She was raising money for the East Lake High football booster club during the fire station's open house Saturday.
While Hejl was working the crowd, other members of the booster club were grilling and selling cheeseburgers and the school's blue and white paraphernalia from a small tent.
"It's the parents behind the boys," said Hejl, who has a son on the junior varsity team. "If the whole family gets behind the team, then the boys excel that much more. It's really about the boys."
The booster club raised nearly $2,000 during the event to go toward helping supplement the school's athletic trainer.
The school system pays the trainer to be at county schools in support of all sporting activities for 20 hours a week.
Because of the number of injuries associated with football, head coach Bob Hudson would like to have the trainer at all football practices and games.
"We all agreed that it's something we need to supplement and we will find a way to do so," said Jennifer Vazquez, the football booster club's president. "He (the trainer) is by far a very important part of the team and we feel like we can't and won't do without him and will find a way to supplement anyway we can."
Strong booster clubs are an essential element to a high school football program, Hudson said.
"In today's economics with tight budgets, the booster club is important," Hudson said. "They are there to supplement programs."
Booster club members also serve dual roles.
"Not only are they the booster club but they are the parents of these kids," he said. "They are out there donating their time. We are there for the same reason and that's to create the best experience for these kids."
Nick Grasso, the athletic director for Pinellas County Schools, said he encourages all schools in all sports to have booster clubs.
"They can really help out because they are a support group for the team," Grasso said. "They are valuable groups of people within the school system because it's volunteer based and they do an awful lot. Ultimately, they help the kids and that's what it's about."
At East Lake, there are about 50 families who participate to support the nearly 130 players.
They sell spirit wear at football games and the discount restaurant cards. They help with parking at the games, provide pregame breakfast and dinner for players as well as purchase shirts and shorts for the players.
If a football player can't cover the $250 to $275 for football camp, the booster club foots the bill.
"Every penny goes back to the boys," Jennifer Vazquez said. "It takes an army of people to make it as successful as it is."
Some might wonder why the Eagles need fundraising since many of the players' parents are financially successful.
According to Profiles of Florida, which provides detailed demographic and statistical data on the state, 40.4 percent of East Lake households have incomes of $100,000 or more.
"That couldn't be furthermost from the truth," Vazquez said. "Unfortunately, the economy has hit the East Lake area in a big way. It's neighbor to neighbor, player to player, car pool to car pool.
"Moms have gone back to work. It's a family and we are all helping one another. So that's a huge misconception."
Members of the varsity and junior varsity football team attended Saturday's event as well and walked among the crowd selling discount cards before meandering to a stretch of open green grass for a quick game of pickup.
The adults continued to sell T-shirts, hot dogs, water and chips.
"We have a great group of boys," said Vazquez, whose oldest son played football four years before graduating in May and now has a freshman on the team. "This is what all this is for and about. It's about the boys."
News researchers Carolyn Edds and Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Contact Demorris A. Lee at dalee@sptimes or (727) 445-4174