Phoenix focus on fundraising at steak fry

GREEN BAY -- You can probably say it every year, but the 14th Annual Phoenix-Packers Steak Fry keeps getting more important.

"I was kind of joking with [director of athletics Mary Ellen Gillespie] earlier, saying, it's a big night!,” said Green Bay men’s basketball coach Brian Wardle.

Gillespie attended her first Phoenix-Packers Steak Fry Tuesday night at Lambeau Field. It’s annually the athletic department’s biggest fundraiser, where the school says it has raised over $800,000 total at previous events. Gillespie was known as an excellent fundraiser before she was hired at Green Bay and recognizes a need to bring in more and more money to help the department thrive.

“I don't know what in life does stay the same price year after year,” said Gillespie. “We could do the same thing but our expenses are going to go up anyway. We're constantly striving to get better, our need for resources becomes so important every year.”

Some of the fundraising responsibility falls on coaches as well. Diagramming plays and recruiting players may get more public attention, but bringing in revenue is a big job.

“Recruiting, scheduling and fundraising never ends for me,” said Wardle. “We're always looking for ways to raise more funds for our student athletes.”

Gillespie says she’s heard a lot about Green Bay’s steak fry success and hoped to step back and take it all in at her first event. Still, with ever-growing expenses, and a desire to try bigger and better things, she knows her department will need to bring in money. Ticket sales, concessions and merchandise are a big part of the equation, but so are events like the one at Lambeau Field Tuesday night.

“There's always pressure, because at the end of the day, we need to keep the lights on, the trains need to be running on time,” said Gillespie. “People need to get paid, student athletes need scholarships, so there is pressure.”

"The state's not giving us more money, and you just saw there's a tuition freeze. It's up to us to go generate it."