The 2018 St. Patrick’s Day Poker Tournament, organized by Dads Uniting Dads in Education and Service, raised over $18,000 last Saturday night at the War Memorial Building in South Pasadena. Photo by Joseph Ruiz
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This St. Patrick’s Day, the Dads Uniting Dads in Education and Service (D.U.D.E.S.) charity organization hosted its 4th annual Poker Tournament in the War Memorial, raising a record of $18,000 for sports programs at South Pasadena’s public schools.

From 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., the War Memorial Hall bustled with parents, volunteers, friends and neighbors who gathered to connect, partake in food and drink, and play poker and blackjack in the name of creating better opportunities for South Pasadena’s students. 

The event has been a joint-venture of the D.U.D.E.S. and the Tiger Booster Program since 2014, when the California drought made it unsustainable for the D.U.D.E.S. to host their annual car wash drives. The Middle School booster club, led by their fundraiser Bill Buckley, broached the idea to the rest of the dad organization.

“We said yes right away,” said president of the D.U.D.E.S. and the Middle School PTA, Ed Donnelly.

Poker tables were filled with parents, coaches, and South Pasadena Athletics supporters at the D.U.D.E.S. St. Patrick’s Day Poker Tournament. Photos by Joseph Ruiz

Since then, the event has grown in both attendance and money raised, according to Donnelly. The organization set a goal of $15,000 and made an additional $3,640. The event sold 100 Poker Tournament tickets, with 35 additional $25 tickets just to play blackjack or revel in the communal support.

Proceeds will assist the Booster Club in providing coaching, transportation, supplies, and registration requirements to various teams including the Little League, and other intermural sports programs. They will also help additional fundraisers like the Tiger Run, and outreach for future events by the D.U.D.E.S, according to Buckley.

That night, poker tables were filled with parents, coaches, and supporters, with the occasional flash of a bright kelly-green suit, giant top hat, or giant beard. Volunteer Rex McDaniels smiled as he weaved through the congregation, pouring IPAs and Pilsners provided by Stone Brewery into bright orange plastic cups throughout the night. Tables in the foyer presented an array of taco toppings, rice and beans, pizza provided by Mamma’s Pizzeria, salads donated by the animal hospital TLC, and a variety of Porto’s pastries donated by a volunteer.

Left to right, Peter Ervin, 2015 Champion; Jeff Nott, 2018 Champion; Mark Deetjen, 2016 Champion; Rachel Walsh, 2017 Champion. Photo by Ed Donnelly

The Tournament of Roses provided decorations, including large black and red dice which bedecked the display table, featuring the tournament’s trophy, which travels from each year’s winner to the next, and a large screen tv featuring photos of student sports events from the middle school’s yearbook.

This coalition of parents, coaches, local businesses, educators, and policy makers pride themselves on the supportive community they’ve built, connecting on their shared love for students and extracurricular activities. “It gives them a place to go, and builds a sense of community,” said Buckley on the focus that’s placed on sports.

Mothers like Suzanne Ebner and Grace Leider, whose children are involved in a couple sports leagues including football and baseball, were happy to celebrate with the widely admired ‘Dudes’. 

“We’re so happy to celebrate with the dudes and the boosters because it’s all about the kids,” said Ebner.

“The fact that they are willing to make fun of themselves just to make money for their kids is so endearing,” Leider added.

Anjali Bedi, Valerie Huntley

The mothers and female leaders have staked their involvement a bit more with the dad club. Arroyo Vista’s principal Cheryl Busick attended to support last year’s tournament winner, Rachel Walsh.

“I’m here to cheer her on!” Busick said.

Other community leaders came to show their support, including City Council Member Bob Joe, SPEF President Megan Dostal, and Karie Reynolds, president of the Middle School Booster Club.

Owners Lauren and Matt Krieger of the TLC Veterinary Hospital, who have three kids involved in sports, say that public funding isn’t enough to sustain these sports programs, and appreciates the contributions the SPMS Booster Club has made. “I think sports are a healthy way for kids to spend their time out of school. They changed my life, and if they’re available to all the kids, it could really help keep South Pasadena competitive,” Krieger said.

Center, Martin Albornoz, one of the organizers of Poker Night

This year’s winner was Jeff Nott, with Michael Girvigian and Ernesto Esquivel coming in 2nd and 3rd place, respectively.

For more information about the D.U.D.E.S. visit their website, http://southpasdudes.com/.

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