‘Salute’ luncheon raises $160,000 for tuition assistance

Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN sportscaster, spoke at the annual “Salute to the Game” luncheon Sept. 26 at the Galt House.

Record Editor

Five years ago when the first “Salute to the Game” luncheon was held, St. Xavier and Trinity high school fans and the businesses that support them raised $25,000 for the Catholic Education Foundation’s (CEF) tuition assistance program.

Not bad for a first-time effort, everyone agreed.

But no one could have foreseen that the luncheon, an annual prelude to one of the nation’s most prominent high school rivalry football games, would become such a monumental fundraising event for the

This year’s sold-out event at the Galt House on Sept. 26 featured ESPN sportscaster Kirk Herbstreit, and it raised a whopping $160,000 for tuition assistance.

So in five years — five years that have featured some of the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression — the Salute to the Game luncheon’s financial contribution has grown by more than 500 percent.

“It is mind-boggling,” said Rosemary Bisig Smith, executive director of the foundation. “For the last four years this effort has been led by Rich Lechleiter (former chairman of the CEF) and his work and the work of our board members has really made this a success.”

The Salute to the Game luncheon began five years ago when then CEF chairman Phil McHugh, local president of Fifth Third Bank, met with Trinity High School President Rob Mullen and St. Xavier High School President Perry Sangalli to consider ways to raise more funds for elementary school tuition assistance.

“Both high school presidents were really supportive of the effort to help our Catholic elementary school families with tuition assistance,” Smith noted. “They made it very clear that they were very appreciative of the foundation’s work to help those families, because they knew that helping elementary school families would eventually be a help to Catholic high schools too.”

The trio agreed to using the annual St. X-Trinity football game as a way to raise funds, and the idea took root from there, she added.

“Our success is mainly due to the support of our vendors, the people and companies who purchase sponsorship of the event,” Smith explained. “You see their signage all around the room, and as they’ve come on board they’ve reached out to others.”

The Al J. Schneider Companies, which own the Galt House where the luncheon is held each year, is also a great contributor to the event’s success, Smith said. “They work with us to give us the best prices possible; all our vendors do,” she said. “When they see me coming, they know that what I have on my mind is Catholic education and tuition assistance, and they do all they can to help.”

Local business leaders look at successful workers in their companies who attended St. Xavier, Trinity or any of the other Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville, and they realize that the quality education those employees received helps those who employ them, Smith added.

The goal of the Catholic Education Foundation is to raise $5 million over the next five years, and by the year 2016, Smith said the CEF hopes to begin awarding $3 million annually in tuition assistance and grants to families with children attending Catholic elementary school.

“We know that we’re currently meeting only half of the need that’s out there,” she said. “We can’t lose sight of the fact that the number of families needing tuition help is continuing to grow. Parents are making a great sacrifice to keep their children in Catholic schools, and we need to continue to help them. As the need grows, the CEF needs to grow, too.”

By raising $160,000 at the event this year, Smith said, CEF and school leaders realize “that we’ve set the bar pretty high for the future.”

“We all realize the goal of what we’re trying to do with the luncheon and with our annual Salute to Catholic School Alumni is a really good thing,” she said. “Raising money for tuition assistance for Catholic families is a worthy goal, and we’ll keep growing to try and meet the need.”

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