George Mason head coach Frank Beasley (Photo courtesy of GMU athletics)
Oftentimes, the concept of fundraising is an overlooked aspect of Division I athletics. Think about it. Once you buy your ticket, grab some snacks, find your seats, and finally sit down to watch an intense matchup between two rival schools on a Saturday night, do you stop and think to yourself how many hours, days, or even weeks were put into financially providing that program with every means necessary? Probably not.
There are 78 Division I wrestling programs in the United States, totaling roughly 2,500 student-athletes. On average, there are 32 athletes on each team, and only 9.9 fully-funded scholarships to be distributed amongst the toughest wrestlers in the country. According to Next College Athlete Sports, men's wrestling is an "equivalency sport." This means that there isn't a strict number of athletes that are required to be on a scholarship. Instead, coaches can decide how to divide up those scholarship funds to best suit their program's needs. For example, full scholarships vs. partial scholarships.
Unfortunately, there are still many programs that are not fully funded and receive only 40-50% of the scholarship allotments as compared to a fully-funded Division I program. What does this mean? Wrestling programs that are not fully funded must find an alternative way to supplement their program. With 40-50% fewer funds than the typical Division I program, their ability to travel to tournaments, creating additional coaching positions, providing their student-athletes with wrestling apparel, and endowments are all at stake.
Although it is not a requirement for partially funded Division I wrestling programs to be public with this information, there are many schools that choose to utilize social media, alumni, and trustees to bridge the gap in funding. One Division I wrestling program, in particular, raises the bar and provides neighboring schools with a golden standard for how to #BeUncommon, while also bridging the gap in funding. George Mason University is a public university located in Fairfax, Virginia. Since 1972, George Mason University has grown into the largest four-year public university in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Head Coach Frank Beasley and Assistant Coaches Camden Eppert and Mike DePalma spearhead fundraising efforts that are nearly unmatched by any other Division I wrestling program in the country. During the Spring of every year, George Mason University holds a fundraiser, which is referred to as "Giving Day." On this day, donors from around the country provide donations of various amounts; those of which help to supplement the wrestling program. Giving Day occurs during Blitz Week, the final push to obtain any additional donations possible. Prior to Giving Day, Coach Beasley, Coach Eppert, Coach DePalma, and every student-athlete create a plan of attack. The wrestling program utilizes Twitter (@GMUWrestling), Instagram (@GMUWrestling), an alumni newsletter, direct text messages, and direct phone calls to engage potential donors.
On average, Coach Beasley stated that returning donors and potential donors are contacted at least two weeks prior to Giving Day. He referred to it as giving the donors enough "prep time." Coaches, athletes, friends, and family work together during Giving Day to claim the top title during the Alumni-Athlete Giving Challenge, a yearlong competition. George Mason University holds an internal battle between the various athletic programs and departments. In 2020, George Mason's wrestling program won the Highest Alumni-Athlete Giving Percentage (35.5) and Highest Young Alumni Giving Percentage (80). Amongst the success, it is evident that George Mason's wrestling program utilizes an all-hands-on-deck approach.
When Coach Beasley first joined the George Mason University staff, donations primarily came from alumni. He stated that the previous coaches and additional department personnel put in a tremendous effort to build and maintain relationships amongst donors. Throughout his time at George Mason, Beasley has continued to nourish those relationships, and foster new ones. "We've been lucky enough to cast a bigger net. We are reaching out to people who aren't necessarily alumni or "wrestling people." They've seen the numbers we've been able to reach, and they're buying into what our program stands for," Beasley stated.
When asked what the secret to being so successful in fundraising is, Beasley stated, "Simply put, it's time and energy. Coach Eppert, Coach DePalma, and I put a lot of effort into building relationships. We are constantly on the phone, calling and texting previous donors and potential donors. We want everyone to buy into our cause, and #BeUncommon. It can be frustrating at times because you don't see an immediate payoff, but once the dust settles, you realize that those text messages, calls, and lunches have all made an impact."
In Beasley's effort to foster relationships amongst new donors, it is imperative that each and every person realizes their weight and the impact they have on the wrestling program at George Mason University. Beasley stated that the fundraising
efforts of each year are split into different "buckets." Each bucket is essentially a savings account for the various needs of the program. The wrestling program will utilize its earnings for the following: a renovated and expanded wrestling room, travel expenses (in an effort to give their athletes first-class treatment), elite wrestling apparel, scholarship endowments, coaching position endowments, and the expansion of its Regional Training Center (RTC); the Patriot Wrestling Club. The ultimate goal of Giving Day is to fill each bucket. In doing so, current and future athletes will be given access to the most advantageous resources and opportunities as possible, bridging the gap between neighboring fully-funded Division I wrestling programs.
As previously stated, the fundraising efforts of Coach Beasley, Coach Eppert, and Coach DePalma are nearly unmatched by any other Division I wrestling program in the country. #BeUncommon is a term that George Mason University's wrestling program lives through and through. When asked how the phrase #BeUncommon coincides with George Mason's fundraising efforts, Beasley stated, "The phrase #BeUncommon means doing everything right, even the little things. As coaches and athletes, we must treat all of our donors with the utmost respect, regardless of the donation amount. We welcome any size donation, small or large. We want our donors to know that we truly care about and appreciate every individual who gives to our program." Beasley went on to say, "My staff and I participate in a Thank-A-Thon. We write a personal "thank you" note to every single person who provided a donation to our wrestling program. It's a special thing. We always strive to #BeUncommon in every aspect of our program."
If you'd like to get involved with George Mason University's wrestling program and become a donor, there are various ways to do so. First, add your name to the emailing list. This will allow you to receive updates about past, present, and future events; Giving Day, Blitz Week, etc. In addition, this will give you access to the alumni newsletter, detailing all of the events you can actively participate in. Second, you can go directly to George Mason University's website to review previous data reports of Giving Day. This will give you an in-depth look at how important your donation is, and the impact it has on the wrestling program. Finally, follow George Mason's wrestling program on the following platforms: Twitter (@GMUWrestling), Instagram (@GMUWrestling), and Facebook (George Mason Wrestling). In addition to Giving Day and Blitz Week updates, each of their social media platforms will provide you with a schedule for home and away wrestling matches. One of the most important events that you can participate in is attending a home match at the Recreation Athletic Complex located on George Mason University's campus. Get ready to be loud, be proud, #BeUncommon, and support the George Mason Patriots.