Pro wrestlers raise cash for Santa Clara schools and back ‘WrestleMania’ bid
As middle school fundraisers go, this one tipped the scales toward the extreme. A dozen bulked-up professional wrestlers with made-up names like Grangrel Vampire Warrior and Drake Younger took over the gym at Santa Clara’s Buchser Middle School last week, prancing and slamming their way through a demonstration of maneuvers called the “big splash,” “cross-body chop” and “tilt-a-whirl.”
Fans ranged from a senior citizen to 5-year-olds clutching the metal barrier that separated them from the action. With each punch and thump, the crowd of about 250 hollered and heckled.
Behind the fun of this Halloween-themed “Wrestling for Charity” benefit were two serious purposes: to raise money for the Santa Clara Schools Foundation and to help the city’s bid to host WrestleMania 2015 at Levi’s Stadium, the soon-to-be-home of the San Francisco 49ers.
Last April, WrestleMania — the World Wresting Entertainment (WWE) equivalent of the Super Bowl, with household names like The Rock and John Cena — drew 80,000 fans to New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium. The year before, 78,000 packed Sun Life Stadium in Miami.
The Santa Clara City Council recently authorized Mayor Jamie Matthews to travel to WWE headquarters in Connecticut for an informational session on WrestleMania 2015. The trip cost $3,710, but Matthews sees it as an investment: a WWE study found that the 2012 event generated $103 million for the Miami area.
Santa Clara’s Stadium Authority borrowed $850 million to help finance the $1.2 billion football venue. Because the 49ers only play 10 home games a year, both the team and the city stress the importance of booking other sporting and entertainment events year-round.“The 49ers are actively looking for those kinds of events. They are under contract to do that,” Councilwoman Teresa O’Neill said.
In addition to the NFL’s Super Bowl, which has been secured for 2016, Levi’s Stadium is looking to host events such as the BCS Championships in college football and WrestleMania 2015.
Whenever the stadium is filled, O’Neill said, the city benefits.
“We want to build a tax base so we can provide even better services for our residents,” she said. “That’s the whole driving force behind doing these kinds of thing — how we can bring revenue to the city.”
As vice president of the Santa Clara Schools Foundation, O’Neill played a major role in last week’s event at the middle school. The nonprofit foundation has donated more than $1 million to the Santa Clara Unified School District for scholarships, equipment, awards and grants to teachers.
The district has 14 elementary schools, two junior high schools, two high schools and four parochial schools. While it now operates with a surplus, government funding goes up and down, making the foundation’s role vital, O’Neill said. “We have a lot of unmet needs for schools in our community.” she said. “This [wrestling event] is one of our attempts to get the community involved and raise some money that will all go to helping teachers and kids in our schools.”
Wrestling for Charity was started in 2000 by Robert Haugh at De Anza College in Cupertino, as a small campus organization designed to help communities through wrestling. Haugh has been involved in pro wrestling for a number of years in marketing, photography and other roles. It has long been his dream to run a nonprofit.
“This has been a labor of love and is a grassroots effort,” he said. “We don’t have huge salaries or wallets, so everything we do is completely on a shoestring budget. The goal we have is raising funds for needy organizations.”
This is not the first time Haugh has worked with the Santa Clara Schools Foundation. Last year in Sunnyvale, they tried a similar event, but due to the heat and the cost of the wrestlers, they were only able to make about $300. Haugh said they are hoping to raise much more this year.
“I grew up in Santa Clara, so I have a deep connection to the Santa Clara schools,” he said.
Haugh said he is a big advocate for the city winning the WrestleMania 2015 bid, adding that “I think Santa Clara has it locked down [over] Philadelphia.” He recognizes that wrestling tends to get a poor reputation among certain groups, but emphasizes that it is a family event. “The kids are indirectly learning that lesson of the good always win,” he said.