The Send a Kid to Camp Fund is the
Arizona Daily Star Sportsmen's Fund
We raise money to send the economically disadvantaged kids of Southern Arizona to summer camp for a week. We are sponsored by the morning newspaper, the business community, organizations like the Tucson Conquistadores and people just like you. Governed and run by an all-volunteer membership made up of community leaders, there is no paid staff, so almost 99% of the money raised goes to send kids to camp.
We're proud of our history.
Since 1947, we've sent almost 40,000 kids to camp. Another 20,000 boys and girls have received a gift at the Sportsmen's Fund annual Christmas party.
It all started when a foursome of local golf pros played an exhibition at El Rio to earn the Sportsmen's Fund it's first dollars. The local group consisted of Dell Urich, Leo Diegel, Jimmy Hines and Ricki Rarick, who originated the idea to help Tucson kids. That first event raised enough money to pay for a Christmas party for 3,000 children at the Fox Theatre Downtown. They were treated to cartoons and goodies, and each was given a piece of athletic equipment.
In all, we've raised more than $2 million and spent almost 99% if it directly on the children of Southern Arizona.
Enjoy this retelling of our beginning by our good friend Abraham S. Chanin, who was at The Arizona Daily Star for 36 years, is professor emeritus in journalism at the University of Arizona and was a past member of the Sportsmen's Fund.
Sportsmen's Fund History
by Abraham S. (Abe) Chanin
Looking back over the half-century history of The Arizona Daily Star Sportsmen’s Fund, I am reminded how it all began: Eyes—that was how it all started, for I could not erase my memory of those wide-eyed children in Europe during World War II.
When I shed my G.I. uniform and returned to my desk at the Star, I remembered a Christmas party my fellow soldiers and I had put on for French youngsters in the Vosges Mountain village of Hunaweir. Why not, I thought, put on a Christmas party for youngsters in Tucson? The idea became reality after the visit to my sports department of a newcomer to Tucson, Clermont D. Loper, who had just been named executive director of the YMCA. The year was 1946.
I mentioned my idea to my visitor, “Why not put on a Christmas party for poor kids?”
“That’s a great idea,” Loper said, “but let’s not call them poor. Let’s call the ‘less-chance’ and let us give them a chance.”
We talked about how we would go about it along with Ricki Rarick, the classified ad manager for Tucson Newspapers. He was excited about working for youngsters because as an outstanding golfer, he already had been working with young caddies at El Rio Country Club. The three-way discussion resulted in naming The Arizona Daily Star Sportsmen’s Fund. The first venture would be a Christmas party. I took the idea to the Star’s publisher, William R. Mathews, who approved and started off the project with a $50 donation.
The Christmas party was held in the Rendezvous Room of the old Santa Rita Hotel. Nick Hall, the flamboyant manager of the hotel, donated use of the room. Fred Stofft of Howard and Stofft helped us get started by donating odd items of sporting goods. Other firms donated candies and drinks and many celebrities from the local coaching world came to hand the gifts to the ‘less-chance’ youngsters. As youngsters were getting their gifts, we heard noises of a scuffle in the alley behind the Rendezvous Room. Lope—that is how he was popularly called—and I went into the alley where we found a number of youngsters. They said they had been invited to the party but were arguing about coming in to the party because they were so poorly dressed. We took them into the party.
Now the key part of the new program was to begin. The Christmas party moved to the Fox Tucson theatre with movies, gifts and refreshments. Lope said he wanted to start a YMCA camping program and suggested the Sportsmen’s Fund might want to become a sponsor of less-chance kids. The plan was for the Y to select the campers, and Ricki and I would raise necessary funds. On the pages of the Star sports section I began a direct appeal to Tucsonans for cash gifts; it was a copy of The New York Times annual “fresh air fund”. Ricki came up with the idea of raising funds by sponsoring special golf matches. Over the years the Sportsmen’s Fund brought in celebrities including Bing Crosby, Phil Harris, Randolph Scott, and Jim Garner. Local golf pros including Dell Urich and Jimmy Hines donated their services, and the celebrities came without fees.
In addition many sports event were sponsored by the Star Sportsmen’s Fund including annual sell-out appearance of the Harlem Globetrotters, a benefit baseball game between the Trotters and the bearded House of David, and spring training exhibitions matching the Cleveland Indians and Frank Sancet’s University of Arizona nine. Some of the state’s most spectacular sports events were sponsored including the first American appearance of the Chinese gymnastics team that brought Secret Service agents to Tucson to protect the visitors; the performance of the great Olga Korbut with the Russion gymnastics squad and Nadia Comenici’s stunning gymnastics skills with the Romanians.
Tucsonans supported the Sportsmen’s Fund programs with enthusiasm, and the first summer camp was held in the Chiricahua Mountains with Ev Palmer as the Y camp director. When Lope brought Clarence S. (Chick) Hawkins to Tucson, the camp was moved to a site in the Catalina Mountains. The camp site was on the ranch of Elizabeth Wood; Lope had convinced her to donate the beautiful ranch to the Y for camping.
Clermont Loper, now retired and living with his wife Ardis in Scottsdale, recalls “Chick and his wife LaVerne worked as a team, a wonderful team. While Chick handled the many details of running a camp, LaVerne became a mother to the boys and girls who came to camp—many getting their first vacation off the hot summer streets of Tucson.”
A winter camp was added to summer camping and now the project began to spread throughout southern Arizona. The Sportsmen’s fund brought youngsters to the Triangle-Y Ranch Camp from Benson, Nogales, Willcox, Casa Grande, Eloy and the Safford area. In addition, Christmas parties were taken to outlying areas—to the Indian reservation to the southwest of Tucson, into Sonora, Mexico towns. When a strike hit the Ray-Sonora area one winter, a car-load of gifts were taken there for a Christmas party.
I recall that Mike De La Fuente helped us sponsor a Christmas party across the line in Nogales. He was the promoter of bull fights, and so the party was held in the ring. I can remember covering up parts of the animals killed in the ring before we brought in basketballs and footballs for the kids. I have a vivid memory of taking gifts to a small village in Sonora. When we got to the school on a cold December day the teachers had lined up the children from the doorway all the way out on the dirty street. We were invited to walk down the row of children, and I still remember looking down and seeing how many of them were barefoot.
I remember, too, how it was that the Harlem Globetrotters first came to Tucson. One day I got a call from Bill Veeck, the dynamic promoter of the Cleveland Indians. He asked me to drive out to the Lazy Vee—his ranch 22 miles east of Tucson at the foot of the Rincon Mountains. When I got there, Veeck introduced me to a short, pudgy man. “Abe Chanin.” Veeck said with a wide grin, “meet Abe Saperstein!” Then Veeck proceded to tell the boss of the Globetrotters that he had to bring the great show to Tucson for the Sportsmen’s Fund and to give us a special arrangement. Saperstein agreed and that started a long and wonderful love match between Tucsonans and Meadowlark Lemon and his talented, comic teammates.
When I left the newspaper and began teaching at the University of Arizona, Tom Foust took over promotion of the Sportsmen’s Fund and he has directed the program to even greater achievements. This year the Arizona Daily Star Sportsmen’s Fund turns 50 and the remarkable relationship between a newspaper, the YMCA and Tucsonans continues as a beacon of community pride in caring for ‘less-chance’ boys and girls.