Lenoir-Rhyne University (LR) and the Piedmont Educational Foundation (Bears Club) have announced the merger of the longstanding booster club with the University. Founded in 1946, the Bears Club has served as the official booster club of Lenoir-Rhyne athletics for over 70 years. Through the annual solicitation of scholarship and programmatic support, the organization has served as an essential resource to the development and success of Lenoir-Rhyne's twenty-two intercollegiate athletic programs.
"This is a huge step forward for Lenoir-Rhyne University in positioning ourselves to move our intercollegiate athletics program to an even higher level of excellence," said Fred Whitt, Lenoir-Rhyne president. "We aspire to be nationally competitive in all of our programs and lead our conference athletically and academically. Our athletic program will be fully integrated into Lenoir-Rhyne's strategic plan, which includes future fundraising campaigns. We look forward to growing the Bears Club membership to record levels. The outstanding leadership of past and present board members and officers have been and will continue to be critical to our success."
The Bears Club has been instrumental in raising athletic scholarships through annual membership drives and other fundraising events including the Hanley Painter Memorial golf tournament, the homecoming gala, and the spring raffle and casino night. The Bears Club football tailgate and hospitality have become a signature element of the membership and game day experience.
"The Bears Club has made a tremendous difference in the growth of the athletics program over the years," stated Ryan Edwards, president of the Bears Club. "The level of alumni engagement, leadership, and dedication on behalf of countless volunteers is unparalleled and unmatched in comparison to other NCAA DII booster organizations. This merger positions the Bears Club to make an even greater impact on LR athletics and future generations of coaches, student-athletes, and alumni. Although most Bears Club members will never notice a change, we will need to restructure internally to more closely align the Bears Club with the University, athletics, and institutional advancement. As always, our success is driven by our membership's support and involvement. I'm excited about the future and the potential this merger provides us to broaden our base of membership."
"This is a great opportunity for the Bears Club to come together with the LR administration to create one team that generates unified support to compete at the top of the South Atlantic Conference and NCAA Division II," said John Moretz, Bears Club trustee. "This change is long overdue and it's the right time given the leadership we have in place and the opportunity for us to take full advantage of the wealth of resources within the University. This new structure will maximize our athletics fundraising strategy and increase our level of success."
Since the establishment of the Piedmont Educational Foundation (PEF), the organization has operated as an entity separate from the institution. The merger now closely aligns the Bears Club with LR athletics and the advancement office, thus as one unified symbiotic team working collectively toward the goal of maximizing athletics fundraising while aligning the vision and strategic priorities of the athletic department with both the University and Bears Club. The merger also positions the overall athletic fundraising strategy with best practices for programs similar to LR.
"I feel like this is a landmark moment for the PEF because there has been a perception of a longstanding wall between athletics and the other side of campus," said Roger Maxey, Bears Club trustee and past PEF president. "With this merger, we can finally come together with athletics and the University and work as a team in order to more strategically position LR athletics to compete at a higher level."
The merger also helps broaden the base of support across all twenty-two intercollegiate sports. Restructuring the Bears Club will allow alumni and friends of each intercollegiate program to not only direct their donations to a specific sport, but also receive Bears Club membership and gift credit toward University contributions.
"To achieve our bold vision and goals, we need to increase external support as well as expand our base of donors," said Kim Pate, director of athletics. "This is a game changer for LR athletics as the merger allows us to capitalize on the tremendous synergy gained from the collective engagement of our passionate alumni and donor base while leveraging the strategic expertise of our advancement staff. We will continue building on our success and maintain the rich traditions of the Bears Club while positioning LR athletics to become a top nationally contending NCAA Division II program of excellence."
The merger transition will begin this spring and will be fully implemented by June 1, 2018. The current officers and board will remain as appointed through May 2019.
Plans for the second annual spring casino night and raffle scheduled for April 7 are underway. For more information or to inquire about opportunities to join or volunteer with the Bears Club, contact Terri Livingston, managing director of the Bears Club, at 828.328.7130.