By Darren Fishell, diamondbar.patch.com
For nearly 28 years, bingo has been the safest bet for the Brahma Boosters at Diamond Bar High School.
In the face of looming cuts to the state budget in the New Year, the dependability of the Boosters's weekly Saturday evening bingo fundraisers is showing its value in full.
Annually, the organization donates about $250,000 through both quarterly donations to the school and its weekly bingo, which raises around $2,000 for a different qualifying student organizations each week.
Boosters President Larry Young said student organizations are always eager to secure their weekly bingo fundraisers for the year, but competition for bingo spots is getting tougher with tightening purse strings elsewhere.
"To a point, it's become a competitive scenario because the budget impact has hit everyone equally," Young said. "You can be sure that we have a waiting list that want to get bingos for their groups."
At the Boosters's Dec. 18 bingo night, which benefited the Brahma boys varsity basketball team, the importance of the fundraiser was clear. Ty Watkins, the Brahma's head coach, missed a tournament game to help meet the team's quota of staff at the event.
"A lot of parents that were planning on coming had other priorities," Watkins said, "and we need to make sure that we get 20 people."
Watkins was texting his coaching staff at the game throughout the night and up to a difficult loss, but he said the basketball program could not exist without support from the bingo fundraisers.
"Our program survives on this funding," Watkins said, "so, I have three coaches here with me tonight."
Team parent Hector Castro took an extended lunch break from work that evening and brought his brother along to help as "runners," shuttling up and down aisles of bingo players to sell special tickets giving players a chance at a $1199 jackpot.
"Originally, I wasn't planning on coming in," Castro said.
But a call from his son the night of the event brought him in to work the bingo event.
"It's a lot of work," Castro said, "like a part-time job."
Booster Treasurer Tim Penticoff said the heyday of large donations has slowed and with that, the weekly bingo is becoming more important.
"This is the main support group of the school," Penticoff said. "And just about every group has one bingo."
For each student group, that means assembling staff responsible for set-up and clean-up of the event that usually sees around 200 bingo players.
"Whatever isn't paid out to the patrons goes to the school," Penticoff said.
All of the approximately $120,000 raised annually for specific groups through bingo and the additional $130,000 raised through parent support and other Boosters activities are not restricted to specific uses for the recipients.
"Because we have no strings attached, we see benefits school-wide," Young said.
Money raised outside of bingo goes to support the school in various ways, funding the use of Scantron sheets for standardized testing, and paying for transportation for some sports teams and clubs, among other uses.
To raise money through bingo events, each group must have a representative Booster in "good standing" for each bingo event they wish to host during the year. To be in good standing, the representative must commit to working 12 bingo events during the year, attend most Boosters meetings, and pay a membership fee, starting at $20, according to the Boosters website.
According to Young, the Boosters membership totals over 400, with a five-member board of directors that votes on spending and strategy for the group's yearly activities.
Young said that most players are from neighboring communities, many coming from Los Angeles and beyond, after reading of the event in the Bingo Bugle, to get their bingo fix.
While bingo is the centerpiece of the Saturday evenings that can attract lines as early as 3:30 p.m. and can go until 10 p.m., there's a lot more going on than meets the eye.
The games — Power Ball, Pull Tabs, Bonanza, and Flashboard — are all ongoing while a concession booth run by Mayan Tacos provides refreshments and food.
Chino resident Grace Gonzalez attended the Dec. 18 bingo along with a few good luck charms — an army of ladybug charms and a small money tree — and an array of bingo daubers, to mark numbers as they are called, in different colors.
"I use different (daubers) depending on the mood," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez, a regular of the weekly bingo events, said attendance that night was higher than usual — around 200 visitors — and that she has seen a decline in attendance over the past few months.
However, Gonzalez also noted that the patrons are changing — there are more families and younger players than before, she said.
Gonzalez is no doubt interested in winning, but she said she and her friend Sue Otteson of La Habra come for the fun.
"If we win," Gonzalez said, "it's a bonus."
PHOTO: New bingo caller Don Caviss keeps players on the edge of their seat in anticipation of a big win. Credit Darren Fishell