TONAWANDA — Not every birthday is celebrated with cake and singing, "Happy Birthday to You." At Cardinal O'Hara High School, the Booster Club, starting its 44th year, celebrates every time someone calls out, "Bingo!"
The Booster Club, or "The Boosters," is a group of fathers, grandfathers and friends of O'Hara students who run weekly bingo, the longest running and largest fundraiser at the school. It traces its roots back to a group of fathers of students at Bishop Gibbons High School in North Tonawanda.
From Gibbons' start in 1961 to its closing 10 years later, these dads organized the bingo program, which helped support the school and its athletic program. When the school closed, many students transferred to its sister school, Cardinal O'Hara. The leadership of the Bishop Gibbons Booster Club came with them.
Many of the fathers, including Jerry Privitera, Ray Orlinski and Vince Salisbury, were instrumental in helping form the O'Hara Booster Club as an independent organization whose main goal was, and continues to be, raising funds and supporting the school's interscholastic sports program.
"The men who helped, like Leo Auriemma, George Graves and Dominic Caruana and so many others, were so great," John Heimback, president of the club's board, said. "After bingo was established at O'Hara, they stayed with the club long after their children graduated. It was great. The Franciscans attended the bingo nights and sometimes played along."
The booster club provides direct financial assistance to the sports program as well as providing college scholarship assistance. In addition, the group funded the first computers at the school. In the beginning, First Friday Night and Saturday night bingos were offered. The former was later discontinued.
But lest you think all the men do is bingo, consider that the Boosters provide an informational table at open house as well as refreshments at a special night set aside for incoming freshmen and their families. They purchased and installed hardware for the gym, along with funding sports uniforms and other projects. Their accomplishments over the 44-year span surprise many.
"We don't brag about what we do," Tony Saletta, vice president of the board, said. "We support the athletic program, but we also help out other places."
"Forty-four years may seem like a long time," Heimback said. "But meeting so many people, finding so many friends and knowing you are helping a school you love makes it all worthwhile."