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To raise money for flights and hotels, Pearson's players bag groceries and pick potatoes. His son Gibson, 14, is on the team. ((Courtesy of Dave Pearson))

The Whitehorse Mustangs are so far from other teams that they must get on a plane and fly 2,000 kilometres whenever they want to play a game. It's expensive, and with such a reliance on fundraising, the team has to get creative.

Since the city comprises almost the entire population of the Yukon, head coach Dave Pearson says the team has to spend $15,000-$20,000 on flights and hotels each time they compete.It typically has to travel as far as Vancouver or Edmonton.

"Our budget is quite significantly different than your average team," he says. "We basically sell our soul, anything we can do for the odd dollar here and there."

Short of selling their souls, the players do whatever else they can to afford tournaments. They run raffles, sell chocolates and cookies, pick potatoes, clear snow and bag groceries.

"The Yukon is a unique spot where everybody that wants to compete at, let's say, an elite level [has to] raise lots of funds in order to afford to do what we do."

Mustang sell-off

The most profitable fundraiser for the team is an annual raffle. Since the Whitehorse team is known as the Mustangs, the league approached the local Ford dealership with a fundraising proposal.

The league raffles off a Ford Mustang each year after buying it at cost, usually around $34,000. It sells tickets for $20 and makes somewhere between $20,000 and $40,000 on the raffle.

In return, the team provides exposure for the dealership. "We have ticket-selling events at [Ford's] sales yard. So it brings in a) some potential customers, or b) it brings some exposure to them as being community supporters," says Pearson.

"That's probably our most beneficial [fundraiser]."

Bagging groceries

The $7,000-$10,000 that goes to each team after the raffle is the tip of the iceberg, however, and wouldn't even cover the cost of one tournament.

The team must constantly come up with fresh fundraising ideas.

"For years and years, we were selling raffle tickets and [getting] donations from local businesses, [selling] the chocolates .… You have to get creative, because a lot of teams are doing that."

At Christmastime, the players don their red and white jerseys and head to the local grocery store with a donation jar to bag groceries for shoppers.

"The store allows us to be there, and it's a good feel-good promotion for them," says Pearson. "People that come through the till seem to appreciate it."

The team usually covers two-thirds of their annual costs through fundraising, while steering clear of other often fruitful forms of fundraising involving alcohol or gambling. 

"It's just the nature of the Yukon territory; it's just not a place for that," says Pearson.

"I know they do them in Alberta, and they do very well from them. We do things that are family-positioned, and things that minor hockey would support."

Picking potatoes

With pub nights out of the equation, the team often ends up doing labour for local businesses.

"We'd go out and do a job like picking potatoes, or clearing snow, or cleaning up a warehouse," Person explains.

The team approached farmers in the area who needed people to pick potatoes and managed to get contracts from several businesses for between $300-$500 a weekend.

With all of the labour involved, Pearson has to ensure that from a young age, the players understand the cost involved.

"You start them early. Our rep program starts in atom. The kids know we're away [a lot]. We keep the player's accounts. If you not involved, you're not involved in the funds that come back to the team."

But the kids are not Pearson's biggest challenge. Every year when the coach gets a new set of players, he also gets a new set of parents. At the beginning of the season, he calls a meeting to lay everything out on the table.

"We kind of organize the year and give them an idea of what rep hockey will bring to them."

Making parents understand the value of fundraising doesn't happen overnight.

"It takes a few years, but after a few years, the parents really understand where the program can be helped and can be assisted by a good fundraising program," Pearson explains.

Guiding principles

To get parents on board, he emphasizes transparency. "The transparency of the funds that you do generate and the transparency of where it is applied is very important. Keep that above board at all times."

He says another important thing is maintaining strong relationships with businesses that support minor hockey.

"Obviously if we didn't have a rapport with these companies, they wouldn't let us come in and do these types of things for them. You have to cultivate the relationships."

Since Whitehorse is relatively small, many businesses have a personal association with the league, giving them a pool of potential sponsors to draw from. Nevertheless, maintaining a rapport with community businesses is essential to their success.