Fundraising is a subject that is equally crucial and challenging for any collegiate athletics department.
Over the years, American International College has sought answers to that challenge, and like many institutions, has received help in finding solutions from booster groups both external and internal. The Alumni Varsity Club and the Yellow Jackets Club are two such groups, and their relationship to each other and the College itself is immensely important for the funding of AIC athletics.
For almost three quarters of a century, the Varsity Club was the premier booster organization for AIC’s Athletics Department. Originally conceived by a group of ice hockey alumni—including Fred Zanetti ’50, Joe Buchholz ’52, and Bill Turner ’49—the Varsity Club, in the words of Fred’s nephew, Frank Zanetti ’83, “grew with the other sports.”
The goal of the Varsity Club, per its constitution, is “to assist the College’s athletics programs and athletes in whatever ways possible to promote and foster interest in the athletics programs at American International College,” and the list of the contributions of the Varsity Club over the years is long. Perhaps most importantly, the Varsity Club established a scholarship fund to help aid student-athletes in defraying the cost of attendance. Furthermore, the Varsity Club helped to fund the original scoreboards in the Butova Gymnasium, consistently has had a presence at Homecoming football games, and helped sponsor the dedication of the softball field as Judy Groff Field in 2006, among a myriad of other contributions.
“It was a good way to stay involved with AIC,” Zanetti said, adding, “Most athletes then were local, so we were able to get a big group.”
While the organization continued to function and serve its purpose, as time passed it became clear that the College needed new avenues to raise funds to compete in an ever-expanding and ever more expensive world of intercollegiate athletics. That need was the impetus for the creation of the Yellow Jackets Club in 2018. AIC’s Director of Athletics Matthew Johnson said, “We made the decision to transition from the Varsity Club to the Yellow Jackets Club in an effort to align more consistently with current trends in collegiate athletics and to maximize external revenue generation. That being said, it is important to note that the Varsity Club will continue to operate in a similar manner to past years under the Yellow Jackets Club umbrella.” He added, “We are incredibly thankful to the Varsity Club for their commitment to and support of AIC athletics throughout the years. Their passion for enhancing the student-athlete experience has been unwavering since day one.”
Echoing the Athletics Director’s remarks, Matt Johnson ’85*, who now serves as the president of the Yellow Jackets Club, said, “As a member of the Varsity Club, it had become clear to me that our capacity to raise funds was becoming limited at a time when AIC needed to significantly increase fundraising for athletics. The Varsity Club, for over seventy years, was a great supporter of AIC athletics, yet AIC needed ten or more similar organizations. There was a need to take the best of the Varsity Club and work towards replicating the success of alumni athlete engagement to include alumni beyond former athletes, parents and families, and other AIC supporters.”
Since its founding in 2018, the Yellow Jackets Club has succeeded in its mission to engage alumni both within and beyond the ranks of former student-athletes. The positive impact on the College’s athletics program has been obvious.
Through the Yellow Jackets Club, AIC has been able to fund new scoreboards for both the baseball and softball fields, a new floor in the Henry A. Butova Gymnasium, as well as initiatives like the all-new Senior Recognition Dinner and Yellow Jackets Club Luncheons to recognize the successes of student-athletes. The next project on the docket that will be funded by the Yellow Jackets Club will be new scoreboards in the Butova Gym to replace the aging ones originally donated by the Varsity Club many years ago.
That update, and Johnson’s transition into his role as the first president of the Yellow Jackets Club, underscores the connection between the two groups. The creation of the Yellow Jackets Club did not mean the end of the Varsity Club; rather, the Yellow Jackets Club was established as a larger organization for the purposes of helping finance the Athletics Department. The Varsity Club continues to function under that umbrella. Zanetti is thrilled with the new group, noting that especially in light of the large number of international student-athletes at AIC, “the Yellow Jackets Club can build on what the Varsity Club started and take it to the next level. They have resources we didn’t have.”
“While the Yellow Jackets Club was created to be a far bigger tent than the Varsity Club alone, the Varsity Club is a significant and important component of the Yellow Jackets Club. Alumni athletes have proven through the years to be strong supporters of AIC athletics, and that won’t change. The Varsity Club will continue to be the primary point of outreach to alumni student-athletes. At the same time, we can and should expand the engagement of AIC supporters who are interested in providing a quality experience for our student-athletes,” Johnson said.
Zanetti summed it up simply: “I think the guys who started the Varsity Club would see how much the Yellow Jackets Club can do for the College.”
*AIC Athletics Director Matthew Johnson and Yellow Jackets Club President Matt Johnson ’85 coincidentally share the same name.
By Seth Dussault ’11, MEd ’15