Amanda Nichols wanted to support Owen athletics at Sunshine Pharmacy, her business in the heart of Black Mountain. A phone call from someone claiming to be affiliated with the high school provided her with the perfect opportunity.
At the time, Nichols had no way of knowing that the money she believed was going to Owen athletics would result in a negligible gain for the school.
Nichols said she was contacted by someone over the phone who claimed to be calling on behalf of the school. After placing a $290 order for water bottles, she learned from a customer that the money would not end up where she intended.
“I ordered water bottles with the school’s name and our logo on them, and we were told that they would throw them out at football games,” Nichols said. “I asked a customer to pick them up for me and told her that I ordered them from the booster club. She told me at that time ‘that’s not through the booster club.”
Nichols said that it is common for marketing companies to call and solicit advertising from her business, so she had no reason to suspect that the person on the other end of the phone was not associated with the school or booster club.
“I could have ordered water bottles myself and put the logos on them, and given them to the school for half of the price,” she said.
Jim Lewis, the former athletic director and current administrator over athletics at Owen, has been seeing the merchandise come into the school since the mid-1990’s when he was the band director.
“Companies will contact local businesses and sell them merchandise that Owen isn’t requesting,” he said. “The businesses will end up paying a lot of money and Owen only gets a box or two of throw-aways.”
Lewis said a small percentage from the sale of merchandise at large retailers like Ingles, Bi Lo and CVS is given to the school annually through a contractual arrangement. However, those funds are not a primary source of income for the athletic programs at Owen.
The majority of money raised for athletics at Owen comes from the booster club or the school itself. According to Lewis, local businesses that are led to believe that the money that the pay for merchandise is going to the school are not the only people that are hurt.
“We come in to do a legitimate fundraiser and a business says ‘we already gave $50 two weeks ago,” Lewis said. “Since the business has already given the money to someone else, we can’t get our money.”
Roger Brown, the president of the Owen Booster Club, was contacted by an individual that claimed to be calling on behalf of someone at the school.
“As a business owner, I was contacted by one of these merchandising people and they said ‘Hey, the cheerleading coach at Owen High School gave me your name and said you might sponsor their team,” he said. “Since I’m involved with the school, I knew that it was a cheerleading coach that was no longer with the school. They just use that mislead local businesses.”
Brown says there is an easy way to avoid giving money to businesses that do not share it with the school.
“If a check is not made out to Owen High School or Owen Booster Club, then the school’s probably not getting that money,” he said. “We don’t solicit anybody to do that work for us. We have a group of volunteers that go around and sell ads in the football program, and banners, and things like that.”
Lewis also encourages local businesses to be cautious when they believe they are giving money to the athletic program at Owen.
“If you don’t know them and they don’t come in with an Owen shirt or jersey on, then just call the school and make sure,” he said.