Since moving to Washougal in 2014, parents Michael and Jessica Minnis have enthusiastically supported Washougal High School athletics.
The couple volunteered at their children’s sporting events and helped the high school’s fledgling booster club for a few years. Then, in late 2021, the Minnises set out to improve the Panthers booster club and find more funding resources for Washougal’s student-athletes. The couple registered The Panther Foundation as a nonprofit organization, which will allow it to raise funds for Washougal High School teams through fundraising events as well as donations and merchandise sales.
“Our mission is to support Washougal High School student-athletes, coaches and teams by creating an inclusive environment by giving access to resources that help enable every possibility for success,” the foundation’s website states. “Our intention is to partner with local fans and businesses to ensure our student-athletes have every opportunity to experience all the positivity that participating in sports has to offer.”
The Panther Foundation will use the funds to purchase safety equipment, nourishment for the student-athletes, branded apparel and to cover other sports-related needs, according to the foundation’s website.
Washougal School District voters passed a three-year enhanced programs and operations (E&O) levy in February 2020 that was projected to raise $7.4 million in 2021, $7.98 million in 2020 and $8.6 million in 2023. About 13 percent of those funds are used to pay for school extracurricular activities, including athletics. The district’s 2020-22 collective bargaining agreement with the Washougal Activities Association shows Washougal coaches earn between $2,360 (for a first-tier middle school coach) and $6,765 (for a head football, basketball or wrestling coach on the highest tier).
Michael Minnis, the Panther Foundation’s president, said there are still “funding gaps” when it comes to Washougal’s high school athletic programs and “not enough available funds.”
The Panther Foundation hopes to close those funding gaps and raise money for things the district may not be able to afford.
Community members can donate funds to either a general fund or team-specific accounts through the Panther Foundation’s website at thepantherfoundation.org.
“There’s a general fund, but each team has their own account that can only be accessed by that team,” Michael Minnis said. “Another team can’t say, ‘Hey, can we take from this team so we can buy this?’ Each team’s accounts are protected.”
“The general fund is going to be there if a kid doesn’t have money for cleats or something like that. Maybe that team’s fund is low because they just bought a bunch of helmets or whatever,” he added. “A coach could fill out a request form and say, ‘We have a need for a size-10 pair of cleats,’ and we would of course provide cleats for that kid who may not have the funds for that basic need.”
The Panther Foundation also will host events for specific student-athlete needs. For example, the Foundation’s July 23 golf tournament at Elk Ridge Golf Course will raise money for the Washougal High football team.
“This is simply to raise funds so that coach (Dave) Hajek can provide the right type of safety equipment,” Michael Minnis said. “When we sit down with the coaches, one of the things (they always mention) is helmets. Helmets are a big deal, and the school just doesn’t have the budget to buy helmets, which are very expensive per unit.”
The Minnises also plan to sell licensed merchandise through the Foundation’s website.
“We were inspired by our friends in the Camas School District, who have partnered with Hometown Apparel to create designs that look very streamlined and professional,” Michael Minnis said. “We’re a different market than Camas, being a 2A school versus a 4A school, but we didn’t think that should hold us back from providing our fans and our community with the same opportunities to get some great gear.”
The foundation directors also hope to provide parents and community members with a more convenient way to register for volunteer opportunities.
Michael Minnis said, in the past, volunteering for Washougal High athletic events has always been “very much word-of-mouth (with) a lot of the same people, and sometimes I think they get a little burnt out.”
By streamlining the volunteering process on the Foundation’s website, the Minnises said they hope they can create a larger poll of volunteers.
And while the Panther Foundation’s leaders are focusing on sports right now, they said they do want to branch out.
“Eventually we’re going to expand into the arts,” Michael Minnis said. “We want to make sure we provide every program with an opportunity to raise funds and create awareness about the need for volunteers. That would be the next step. We’re trying to maintain our head above water right now, but our vision is to touch every extracurricular program eventually.”
To donate funds, register for volunteer opportunities, view a list of fundraising events or find more information about the Panther Foundation, visit thepantherfoundat ion.org.