Youth sports get early gift from Sunrise Rotarians

Early Christmas gifts made their way to a surprised group of coaches this week as Claremont’s Sunrise Rotarians bestowed $8000 to the city’s youth sports.

Santa Claus and a parade of Sunrise Rotarians arrived at the Youth Sports Committee meeting last Tuesday, checks in hand. The unexpected interruption came without any complaint from committee members as members of the service club handed over their largest donation yet to Claremont’s budding athletes, thanks to the success of their fifth annual Turkey Trot charity run. This year each of the 8 sports represented on the committee received needed funds to support registration costs.

“The Turkey Trot has really grown into this terrific thing,” said club president Doug Thompson, who also chairs the organization’s Youth Scholarship Committee. “It’s truly a charity run.”

The city’s Sunrise service group has dedicated its time over the decades to multiple causes, donating books to young students in Africa or helping eradicate polio. In recent years, its attentions have also been focused on helping out youth not so far from home.

“8000 people participate in Claremont’s local sports and, if you think about it, are one of the city’s most valuable groups,” Mr. Thompson reflected. “These athletes are on the field every Saturday with their parents watching for 10-15 years of their life and yet they don’t get a lot of recognition.”

The idea of supporting youth sports developed, fittingly enough, while Mr. Thompson and other Rotary members were playing a game of softball about 5 years ago. Tossing around ideas of how to further Sunrise Rotary’s community service, one of its 4 primary goals, the relatively little funding local youth sports receive was among discussion points.

“A lot of these sports are being cut way back,” Mr. Thompson said, adding that when he discovered that the total amount being provided from all sources to help “financial hardships” for all sports teams in town was $2500, “I thought, ‘That’s ridiculous!’ We needed to change that.”

Out of that conversation the Youth Sports Scholarship was born, bringing financial support to athletes aged 8-18 who attend Claremont schools. The Turkey Trot fundraiser was developed to help donate to both this new, local focus and the club’s international causes. Half of the proceeds go directly to young athletes struggling to afford their activity of choice.

Of the events Sunrise Rotary has held over the years, the one that has garnered the most attention is, without a doubt the Turkey Trot, a Thanksgiving morning 5K race for those looking to put in some work before feasting. The event is particularly poignant, says Rotarian Adam Russell, as many of the volunteers and participants are the athletes and families of the athletes the Rotary scholarship helps.

“About 100-150 people volunteer to run and a lot are high school kids and athletes in their uniform helping us out,” Mr. Russell said.

Its growing popularity reveals that the event is as meangingful to its participants as it is to its event coordinators. Since  the Turkey Trot’s first go, Sunrise Rotary and its Youth Sports Scholarship program has helped over 700 kids afford to play local sports. More than $30,000 has been provided in the last 3 years, according to Mr. Thompson, and as a result of last November’s Turkey Trot alone, Sunrise Rotarians will be able to provide $15,000 in athletic scholarships this year.  

Instead of simply cutting a check to a sports organization, Sunrise Rotarians go a step further. The money given through its scholarships is specifically designated to supplement rising registration costs, providing for those unable to pay the signup fee to play ball. For the Claremont region of the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), it means 20 or more kids are able to play.

“We have tried to keep our registration fees as consistent as possible over the past 4 years, but times are difficult and there are lots of families with multiple kids playing sports,” said Ed Tomkins, regional commissioner of the Claremont AYSO. “We appreciate what Sunrise has been able to do and we encourage people to continue supporting it [through the Turkey Trot].”

Claremont Little League refuses to turn away players unable to afford registration costs, but the $1000 received will help offset the costs it fronts for players in need.

“It’s a struggle every year,” said Amy Weiler, president of Claremont Little League, of the financial hardships experienced by some of their players. “[The Sunrise Rotarians] have really showed how much they appreciate the benefit sports provide the youth in our city.”

While focusing on ensuring that Claremont youth are able to experience the benefits associated with sports play excess funds have allowed Rotarians to provide needed equipment updates. In August, Sunrise members donated 40 new helmets with the latest “Concussion Reduction Technology” to the CHS football team. Before that time, the helmets hadn’t been updated in 4 years, said Mr. Thompson.

With the service club’s continuing dedication to Claremont’s next generation of sports stars, Rotarian’s ‘Service Above Self’ is becoming more than just a motto. It’s an action plan.

“It takes on a whole new meaning when you see the joy on the kids’ faces,” Mr. Thompson said. “It’s amazing.”

Claremont Sunrise Rotary meets on Wednesdays at 7:15 a.m. at St. Ambrose Church, 830 W. Bonita Ave., in Claremont. To find out more about the Youth Sports Scholarship or to apply, visit the Sunrise Rotary webpage at

—Beth Hartnett


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