PEMBROKE — It’s been three years since sports officials, coaches and donors at UNC Pembroke gathered for an in-person Cash Bash fundraiser.
When they came together again for this year’s Cash Bash on Tuesday, it was a record breaking event.
More than $125,000 was raised for the UNCP’s athletic department, earmarked for scholarships for its athletes, the highest ever raised in the history of the Cash Bash decade.
“We were really lucky; when you count the installation issues, with the construction in the main gymnasium and having to rotate here, I just can’t say enough about our advancement staff and our external ops guys,” said the athletic director Dick Christy. “And to see the donors come out in force, it’s just a blessing and we’re very lucky.”
The gymnasium was packed with Braves fans, as well as athletes and coaches, for a night of food and drink and silent, live auctions.
“I just came here in August and saw what this great community is doing, and the backbone of our student-athletes, it’s been great to see them supporting our student-athletes,” said Tyler Johnson, director annual donations from the Braves Club. “They’re the reason we keep chasing championships day in and day out, it’s because of the community we have here in Robeson County, and I’m just proud to be here.”
Instead of a keynote speaker, as the event has done in recent years, the evening featured nine video reports from former UNCP athletes who have achieved success in their post-college careers.
“We didn’t want to spoil the social environment, people’s ability to interact with the silent auction and mobile access, but we still wanted to have that ‘this is why we’re here’ message,” he said. Christy said. “Those nine being willing to invest their time, it was great. Our #1 goal is to develop successful adults, and there are nine examples; they are great people, and not only did they invest their time, but most of them made an offer or donated tonight.
One of them was Hank Cherry, who played baseball for the Braves from 1996 to 1999 before a successful career as a professional fisherman; Cherry won the world famous Bassmaster Classic in 2020 and 2021.
“It was lucky for me to bring my kids here, with my busy schedule, and they can actually see where my college baseball stuff came from,” Cherry said. “My son is going into seventh grade, but he’s a budding varsity athlete, and he’s great with his grades and a pretty decent baseball player and that’s what he wants to do; it’s lucky for him. to see where I was and to walk where dad walked.
Dee Hardy was another of the winners; she played volleyball and basketball for the Braves from 1981 to 1985 and had a legendary career coaching women’s basketball at EE Smith High School in Fayetteville for the past 36 years.
“It’s always great to come home, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to be one of the winners,” said Hardy. “Pembroke means so much to me and my family, so whenever they call, I’m there.”
Other winners include: Jerome Benjamin (wrestling, 2001-04), Caroline Pridgen (volleyball, 2013-16), Natalie Rooney (softball, 2011-14), Owen Thomas (soccer, 2007-10), Aaron Gunning ( wrestling, 2001-05), Jeff Moody (cross country, 1975-79) and Barry O’Brien (men’s basketball, 1969-73).
Pre-recorded interviews with each of the winners broadcast during the event; eight of the nine attended and reflected on their time as an athlete with the Braves.
“I grew up here a lot,” Cherry said. “I had the chance to make good decisions and I was allowed to make bad decisions, and I learned from them, and I actually matured a lot while I was here. With the hindsight, I don’t regret being here.
“A lot of memories; the university has grown tremendously,” Hardy said. “I’m a little jealous to be honest. We didn’t have all that when we were here. But I’m just humbled, it brings back a lot of memories and a lot of good opportunities to see the other athletes who have been successful and successful.
The university spends about $1.7 million a year on athletic scholarships, Christy said; in a typical year, approximately 10-15% of the general athletic department scholarship fund is raised during the Cash Bash. By Tuesday, the event had raised more than $750,000 in its 10-year history.
“I feel like we hit the mark. … Basically, we did a pretty good job,” Christy said. “The silent auction was the best we’ve ever had.”
In addition to the silent auction, the live auction – led by professional auctioneer Brian Calibria – featured five items; all sold for at least $1,500. A Gene Locklear painting “Trail of Tears” sold for $4,800 and a week-long stay at Figure Eight Island sold for $6,000.
Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.