Friends of Townie Athletics celebrates completion of silver anniversary season

East Providence booster club finished 25th year supporting sports programs

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EAST PROVIDENCE — The Friends of Townie Athletics, the non-profit organization conceived to augment administrative support of sports throughout the East Providence School District, recently completed its 25th anniversary year.

The group’s motto during the 2018-19 term has been “Celebrating 25-plus years of service and commitment to East Providence student-athletes.” Its guiding credo is “to support and promote athletic and physical education in East Providence Schools by uniting students, parents, coaches, faculty, staff and community in a way that enhances the sharing of school spirit, and provides moral as well as financial support. The organization’s goal is to assure the ongoing improvement to all East Providence Schools and work in conjunction with the East Providence Athletic Director.”

It could also include a sentence or two about the ideal of giving back to the community, something each of the current members seemingly share in abundance.

According to the notes of current FOTA secretary Stephanie Vinhateiro, herself a member for 11 years, the organization formed in the fall of 1993. Then District Athletic Director Ken Reall brought together a group of teachers, coaches, former athletes and parents to support the coaches and teams in their fundraising efforts at the time. Over the last two decades and a half, the group’s efforts have continued in that initial endeavor.

One of the strengths of the organization has been consistency of its membership. Millie Morris, Clarence "Junior" Butler and Dr. Tom Antonian have been with the FOTA at or about its inception. Currently, Mr. Butler serves as president, Ms. Morris vice president with Greg Dias as treasurer and Kevin Monagle as assistant treasurer overseeing all team fundraising accounts.

Mr. Butler said he is pleased with where the organization is at the moment, seeing the booster club as being in its rightful place as augmenting what the district does and should supply its athletic programs.

"If we are able to maintain what we’ve been doing year to year, dollars and cents wise, there is no reason to do any other thing unless some big sugar daddy rides into town and offers something," Mr. Butler explained. "I feel we don’t want to get too big. Be careful what you wish for. You get to a point where it gets so big, it becomes a weight on the shoulders of the people involved.”

In total, there are 22 active and involved members who are coaches, community members, former athletes, parents and EPHS staff members.

“There was a need for it at that time because of the nature of the sports activities and not getting enough financial support. And at the time there was this dichotomy between the city and the school department about how sports would be funded. I think everybody involved at that time felt the need was there,” Dr. Antonian said. “But it's the present group that got it grow where it’s at. That’s phenomenal. I still can’t believe it’s at the level it’s at right now.”

Among the latest donations made by the FOTA was the purchase of a new wrestling mat for Riverside Middle School at a cost of $8,000. The group will soon also supply RMS with a new ice machine to aid its athletic teams.

To date, the largest single outlay by the FOTA was $15,000 for the scoreboard that was purchased for the former turf field at the high school, but has been put into mouthballs for the time being while the new EPHS is being constructed. It will return to the grounds once the athletic facilities there are built. Another significant assist when to refurbishing the EPHS weight room.

“It’s meant a lot to me. I like supporting East Providence athletics,” said Ms. Morris. “I like watching the kids grow into young adults and see what they do with their lives. It’s been very important to me, what we do for the kids both at the middle schools and the high schools.”

Late this summer, the FOTA will conduct its 11th annual golf tournament at Metacomet Country Club in city, which has become the organization’s single largest fundraising event of each year. The tournament is the fulcrum of the FOTA. Since it came into being, it has raised approximately $242,000.

Of note as well, an additional $9,000 has been received through memorial donations following the passing of community: former EPHS athletic director Joseph Rock, Richard "Spunky" Pimental, Jim Moan, Richard Filippo and most recently Peter J. Saunders.

Mr. Butler said it is the outing, which began nearby Crestwood C.C. before moving to Metacomet which also is home to the EPHS golf team each spring, that has catapulted the organization forward. He referenced the influx of new FOTA members at that time, making particular mention of former body president Dave Allienello and Mrs. Vinhateiro in helping spur the organization’s more assertive direction.

“I really have to give Dave Allienello credit. When he became president he helped start the golf tournament,” Mr. Butler said. “That was the kicker. That really started to put money in the till. Before that, it was catch as catch can. But once that started, we started doing better, doing better, doing better."

Mr. Butler continued, “And when Stephanie came in, I can’t rave enough about her. She is so diligent and so on top of things and so dot the Is and cross the Ts. But the success is also about who has come and gone, who has put in the time into this thing with no renumeration at all. We’re a 501c3 non profit with all the money going back to the sports.”

Mrs. Vinhateiro said she uses the memory of her father, James Kanelos, as inspiration for her efforts with the FOTA. She noted how as a local business owner, who served as well as an elected member of the School Committee, he sponsored youth sports teams in the city. He was also one of the founders of the Recreation Department’s annual Dolly Seale golf tournament. In addition, the dining hall at East Providence High School is named in Mr. Kanelos’ honor.

“I joined to make a difference in this community for young people,” Mrs. Vinhateiro said, echoing a sentiment shared by her fellow FOTA members. “My father, he always said, ‘Stephanie, whatever you do in life, think of the young people. They’re your future.’ And he always did whatever he could to help, and that’s what he instilled in me. And that’s why I try to do.”

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