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Dynamics beyond the sidelines


More Than a Game
Friday, April 4, 2003
By Ron Cherubini
Staff Feature Writer


Like true Pirates, Pirate Club embraces "chip"


Pirate Club Snapshot

Location: 3rd Floor of Ward Sports Medicine Building

Started: 1961-62 by Dr. Leo Jenkins as the Century Club

Membership: 8,000

Chapters: 43

States: NC, SC, VA, MD

Endowment: $6 million

Annual Scholarship support: Approximately $2.5 million/year

Recent key projects: The Murphy Center, The Baseball Stadium


Board of Directors for  2003-04:

Matthew T. Boykin, II - Greenville

Louis P. Forrest - Winston-Salem/Chocowinity

Grant Jarman - Greenville

Mark Meltzer - Greenville

Joseph L. Wallace - Sanford

Board of Directors for  2002-03:

Willard H. Colson, Jr. (Greenville)

Dennis G. Jones (Cary)

Tony R. Misenheimer (Rockwell)

D. Reid Tyler (Raleigh)

Samuel J. Wornom, III (Sanford)

Pirate Club Working Staff:

Executive Director: Dennis A. Young

Associate Director: Mark Hessert

Assistant Director: Mick Crawford

Assistant Director: Matt Maloney

Special Projects: Shannon A. Padrick

Secretary: LaTrenda S. Britt

Data Control: Beth Everett

Office assistant: Lisa Hagen

Systems Coordinator: Pete Triebenbacher

Legal Counsel: Walter Hinson

( First in a three-part series about the inner workings of the Pirate Club )

Big goals spur hard work


With the economy down and the East Carolina football team coming off its first losing season since 1997, Pirate Club Executive Director Dennis Young has no illusions about the challenges that lie ahead for his organization as the current year unfolds.

Pirate Club Executive Director, Dennis Young
Photo: Sara Macias (

“In 2003, we really want to prick the conscience of our membership,” Young said. “We have to get to the 10,000-member level. We have got to get our endowment to $20 million.”

It is a sizeable mountain to climb for an organization that is now in the 8,000-member area with an endowment of $6 million, but it is also a benchmark that Young and his staff of nine feel compelled to strive for with a sense of urgency every day as they work out of their Ward Sports Medicine Building offices. And to continue to move toward those lofty targets, Young and crew know that they must personally embody what it means to be a Pirate, an East Carolina Pirate.

“I think that there are a lot of reasons (that make the ECU Pirate Club unique),” Young said. “Like us, many alums had a great experience at ECU. It is a big school that has maintained a small campus feeling. It’s a school where most students spend the first year or two in the dorms. It is a school where the students have a sense of trying harder and everyone has a real chip – positive chip – on their shoulders. You get a valued education, but you know that you might still have to prove yourself. East Carolina is a great school because of this and, of course, it is very fun from an athletics and social point of few. A great place for a kid transitioning to adulthood.”

The “chip” so often talked about at ECU is real and is personified every day in the tireless efforts of the Pirate Club staffers. Young attributes that passion to the roots of the organization.

“The Pirate Club started out as the Century Club by Leo Jenkins — Coach (Clarence) Stasavich and other from around the community in 1962,” Young said. “They understood there was a need for a fundraising arm (of the East Carolina University Athletics program).”

Today, the East Carolina University Educational Foundation, more commonly known as the Pirate Club, is one of three foundations at ECU, the others being ECU Academic Foundation and the Medical Foundation. The primary mission is to raise student-athlete scholarship and capital enhancement support.

Like Jenkins and Stasavich, Young, who played football under Stasavich, relishes challenges – in this case, the challenge of making ECU a player in Conference-USA and on the national athletics scene.

To understand where ECU is in relation to other schools, consider this comparison offered by Young.

“We are at $6 million (in endowment) and we need to further that,” he said. “Schools in Conference-USA like Louisville are at $20 million and fans expect to be competitive. We have to enhance that revenue stream and do it in a short time. If we don’t, we won’t have anyone to blame but ourselves for our competitiveness. We use Louisville as our barometer and we hope that our members have the same passion.”

And if you look within the confines of the state of North Carolina at UNC-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State, the difference in foundation numbers makes comparisons a moot point at this time. It’s apples and oranges… for now.

“Prior to the ‘60s, the bulk of graduates at East Carolina were teachers,” Young said. “The school diversified under Leo Jenkins. Now we are seeing guys my age – the baby-boomers – becoming businessmen. We are starting to see more who can do more financially, as we grow as an alumni base. To compare us to North Carolina or N.C. State… they have a much larger base of living alumni.

“Our living alumni is close to 90,000 while theirs are more like 200,000-plus. And, they have a larger proportion of professional and business people with the financial capacity (to give larger gifts). We are not quite there yet, but we are evolving in that regard.”

The bottom line is that ECU has a very young alumni base, but it is a sizable and loyal population that is beginning to mature. That maturation spells big-time opportunity for the Pirate Club, if it can capitalize on the passion of its current core membership. The development of stronger, more competitive teams across the entire athletics program, the Medical School, and the recognition that both have brought the university in recent years is having an impact on awareness.

“Our alums take as much pride in our medical school in the last 30 years as anything at our university,” Young pointed out. “It is a large part of our university and eastern North Carolina, in general. The vast majority of the people who live in and around this community, as a whole, understand the value of (Pirate Club success) and we have been able to capitalize on that.

“We even have a number of members (who graduated) from other (colleges). We have pushed, over the past years, the value of member businesses. The (focus) of Pirates Supporting Pirates is to get (businesses) to appreciate the impact that ECU Athletics has on the business community and, more importantly, the value of us giving back to ECU Athletics.”

The value to Greenville merchants on any given home football Saturday is in the neighborhood of $5 million of economic impact for the weekend. Businesses have responded and the professionals that drive those businesses, in many cases, have also responded in the form of PC memberships.

There are examples out there, Young points out, that give ECU realistic hope of reaching new levels in Athletics.

“There are big challenges, certainly, if we are going to be effective in our fundraising activities – then the university must continue to give support,” Young said. “We are very comfortable with Dr. (William) Muse. He has been around big-time athletics and we know that big-time is what he wants for East Carolina.”

Young pointed to Florida State’s near-meteoric rise as an Athletic program from humble beginnings that mirror ECU in many ways.

“FSU is a tremendous example,” Young said. “(Their Athletic growth) directly relates to success that Bobby Bowden has had down there. Athletic success is huge. People want to be associated with that success and are always willing to give more (in terms of funds). Fortunately or unfortunately, athletics brings more exposure that universities can use to go out and get in the market place. Success breeds pride and pride breeds involvement.”

Young also pointed to another example of the impact that success on the field has on the university, beyond athletics.

“After the (1991) Peach Bowl season, ECU saw the largest number of applications that the administration ever received,” Young said. “And along with that, the quality of the applications was the highest to that point (in time).

“We need full support all the way down. This university, over the years, and it goes back to Dr. Jenkins’ days  – he realized if ECU was ever gong to have its place the sun, it needed a strong athletic program to create a sense of pride. He deserves a lot of credit to where ECU and its athletic programs are today.”

Pirate Club Staff Meeting (Photo: Sara Macias,

So, where is the ECU Pirate Club today?

This year has brought the P.C. a very mixed climate. On the downside of things, the football program is struggling and when your cash cow is not producing at a football school, donors don’t always feel so good about giving. The economy is down, which tightens everyone’s belts from big money, to smaller money.

On the upside, with the continual success of the baseball program combined with Greenville’s affinity for the sport, and the rapid rise in the competitiveness of the men’s basketball program, the Pirate Club is seeing opportunity to capitalize even during “down” times.

“The economy really has an impact on anyone in fundraising, no matter who you are,” Young said. “And, there are a lot of other impacts, like wins and losses. We can chart it. Every time we come off a winning season (in football), there are direct correlations. Membership swells.”

Young pointed out that in the case of the big donors, they “tend to be with you through thick or thin because they are making an investment.”

But, as Young has always contended, the success lies in the retention and addition of ALL members, regardless of amounts of the gifts.

“We try to analyze every year and we count attrition,” he said. “The lower gift level donors have not bought in yet. Every successful season grows the organization. Each year, more and more donors buy into it. We like to use Virginia Tech as a case in point.

“That first time they went to the Sugar Bowl, their membership jumped by a third… a third! And the dollars they raised went up significantly in subsequent years.”

But it is no longer just football and Young sees big membership growth potential in other sports.

“We are feeling the impact of basketball now,” he said. “Certainly, our supporters feel better about our basketball program and we are seeing some of that with seating priority requests. As those seats become scarce, it will get more people involved. Usually, after a bad football season, it’s ‘Look to next year.’ But, now we are in a nine or 10 month (model).”

And, of course, there's another sport that has become strategic at ECU, one that has a storied history and which has built a high profile and loyal constituency.

“The community gets excited about baseball, and well they should,” Young said. “ECU baseball is the most successful program at ECU. They have had 49 out of 51 winning seasons. It is unique to this community. Greenville is a baseball crazy town and there is a lot of community involvement. And when Keith (LeClair) came on board and took us to the Regionals, it made baseball a tough ticket at ECU.”

It was with great pride that Young reported that the $6 million goal for the baseball stadium project had not only been met, but surpassed.

“Walter (Williams) and Jim (Ward) both worked tirelessly along with the steering committee to get that done,” Young said of the stadium fundraising effort. “Beyond the 3,000 seats (expected to go to season ticket holders), the Athletic Department will raise revenues and proceeds from the Regionals. We have to be realistic, but the stadium and team’s continued success will help reduce the amount of underwriting for that program.”

The reality of college sports is that all programs, generally, besides football are underwritten. Football, as Young concedes, is the only sport to “carry itself financially.” But, at ECU, the baseball program does well for itself and has brought important recognition to the school.

The Pirate Club is continuing to seek innovative ways to build its base, like the Student Pirate Club, which has swelled from 100 to 1,200 members in the past two years. And, as one of the country’s “most-wired” universities, the Pirate Club looks to technology to help them do more, faster.

Pirate Club Systems Coordinator, Pete Triebenbacher
Photo: Sara Macias,

“You have to use technology to keep a harness around things,” he said. “We can use more and more kinds of communication now. Websites, databases… technology is moving our way (which can make up for small staff). It makes us more accessible.

“At the same time, we always want to ensure that there is always someone there to answer the call and make that personal connection… that personal relationship.”

Growing those relationships is a big part of the 2003 objectives. All but a few of the Pirate Club chapters are within North Carolina, where most of the alumni base has settled. But Young and his staff recognize that ECU's pool of graduates is now national… even global, and that all alums, near and far must be tapped.

“Seventy percent of our alums live in eastern North Carolina,” Young said. “We have always primarily marketed in the state of North Carolina. But with our tie to Conference-USA, we are really trying to band together our support around the country. We know that the vast majority of alums are committed to (getting ECU where it needs to be). We just got to keep being clear and getting the message across to all of our alums.”

A day in the life

In short, frenetic and passionate best describes a day in the life of Young and his staffers at the Pirate Club. There are always people to meet. There are always members and potential members who want to talk ECU Athletics. At times, 24 hours in a day is a cruel limitation to the P.C. folks.

“There are some real hurried moments in the life of our staff,” Young said. “In the spring we are out and about to 32 banquets from March to the May 1 priority deadline date.”

Meanwhile, back at the offices, the home-based staff is processing about 70 percent of the memberships during that same time frame.

“Matt (Maloney) and Mick (Crawford) spend a lot of time on the road to the chapters and I am working the business side,” Young said. “(The Pirate Club) is a business and it does have assets that have to be managed, an endowment committee to see that the assets are invested properly and that the organization is ran efficiently.”

There are mass mailings, phone calls, personal calls, budgets to be balanced, projects to be prioritized, projects to be managed… the list goes on and on and to the donors that are giving money and time, every project big or small is the most important one.

For Young, he often taps that former football player in himself to find the necessary extra energy to give the P.C. what he feels it deserves.

“The main reason I came back to ECU from the business world 11 years ago is because I greatly appreciated the athletic experience it gave me,” Young said. “I joined in 1969 to begin to pay back my scholarship. Being a former player, I am a firm believer that if ECU is going to be and have what it deserves, we must capitalize on all of the exposure the school gets through athletics and elsewhere. It is all tied together.”

Tapping former athletes is part of that and a part of Maloney’s routine is getting former stars back in the fold. In between his travels and calls he also organizes events that pull back athletes from the past.

Young recognizes the potential impact the efforts targeted at NFL players can eventually spark and notes that, even though many of ECU's professional stars are separated by distance and time, some signs of success are beginning to materialize.

“Not a lot of players (in the NFL) are giving back right now,” Young said. “It’s the same dilemma many other schools face. Many of these players look at the time they played and figure that they gave with blood, sweat, and tears. And then you have guys like George Koonce and Earnest Byner who have gotten into the fold. They will be able to get others involved.

“Matt Maloney has done a great job with our letter winners and getting them back involved. Our members take pride when we hear these players’ names. But it is hard to capitalize on pro careers beyond the linkage to East Carolina. Those links do reinforce the pride that our alums have out there.”

That pride and fostering its growth is a daily effort for the Pirate Club staff. And for the staffers, the job goes well beyond an eight-hour day. Phone calls, trips, events, are happening at all hours of the day, and part of the job requires the intensity to be present regardless of when the event or call comes.

Moments make it all worthwhile

When the mountain seems at its highest, many of the staffers need only think back to their last visit with a donor or potential donor to re-energize. It is, after all, the ECU people that the P.C. is all about. In Young’s tenure, he has seen too many gracious moments to count.

“Gosh, there are a 1,000 different stories I could tell about (PC people),” he said. “The worst thing I can do is not acknowledge the generosity of our members. Every story is so special.”

Young shared a few.

“I remember in December of 1993, we received the first-ever million dollar gift. The gift came from Trade Oil. Walter’s (Walter Williams) son Dave and son-in-law Edwin called me and they asked me to come visit with them during ECU’s Shared Vision campaign. We talked and they both basically said, ‘We’ve got to get (this Shared Vision campaign) done.’ They weren’t asked; they just gave it …a million dollars. I about fell out of my chair.”

And there are other great stories.

“Take Ed and Diane Murphrey,” Young said. “They are very successful people but neither went to ECU. They were simply great fans and they wanted to become more than fans. Diane became the first female to be the president of the Educational Foundation. Let me tell you, Diane had a real sense of the pulse of the organization.

“There’s Mark Meltzer, the past president of the Pitt County chapter. He has spent so much time recruiting Pirate Club members. He has many years been our top rep and gives countless hours with tireless energy to ECU.

“Or, take Perry Hudson in Harnett County. He signed up 54 new members.”

Young would go on for days if he had the time to talk about the generosity of Pirate Club members. In his words there are simply, “…countless stories that could be told.”  But it is the relentless nature of Pirates and friends of the Pirates that has made the difference in the P.C. mission to become big-time, and to do it faster.

For Young and his staff, they choose to look at the individual stories and the people who are among the Pirate Club membership and believe in the face of the 2003 challenge. They are undaunted by factors like the economy… because Pirates always find a way, especially when their backs are against the wall.

Young and his staff know this and it energizes them.

Send an e-mail message to Ron Cherubini.

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02/23/2007 02:20:53 PM

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