By MARY STARR
Every first Saturday in May the trumpet sounds, the announcer proclaims “And they’re off,” and so begins the Kentucky Derby, historically dubbed “the fastest two minutes in sports.”
The Derby is so much more than a horse race, however. It is simultaneously a fashion show, a social event and a great opportunity for networking, in addition to being the most famous race among thoroughbred horses in the world. Only Ascot, held in the U.K., rivals the Kentucky Derby for its pomp and circumstance, and even it doesn’t hold a candle to the Run for the Roses.
On St. Simons Island, Derby Day is all of the above as well as being a fundraiser for Frederica Academy. The private island school relies its annual Derby Day event so much that the function is a line item in the school’s budget.
The 18th annual Frederica Derby Day will begin at 5 p.m. May 4 at the Sea Island Retreat Clubhouse. Since Bill and Sally Jones hosted the inaugural event at their home in 2002, Derby Day has generated more than $2.5 million for Frederica Academy. Last year, the signature event raised more than $260,000 in net profit, which was a new record.
“It may be the largest single-day fundraiser in Glynn County,” said John Pope, director of advancement for the school.
Co-chairs for this years event are Elizabeth and Zach Powell and Jenny and Paul Thompson.
One of the driving forces of the event’s success is its silent auction. An array of prizes, including a stay at a vacation home in the Abacos, a one-week stay at White Oak, athletic events and concert packages and two surprises, are among the choices this year.
When pressed for the “best prize,” Elizabeth Powell had something in mind.
“The English Labrador puppy,” she said.
Jenny Thompson said local golfers are participating in the event, and one golf package was sure to make its winner very happy.
“We’re so happy to have a Zach Johnson RSM package that will be unique and special,” Thompson said, adding that another great prize is the UGA-Notre Dame VIP Weekend Package. “It’s the ESPN College Game Day game for that week, so it will be a lot of fun.”
Frederica Academy Derby Day attendees are treated to live and silent auctions, a betting booth, a golf cart raffle, the simulcast of the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby, and live entertainment by Mason Waters and the Groove All Stars. Tickets are $125 per person, and include Southern fare and beverages as well. Corporate sponsorships begin at $500/ As always, the women will be dressed to the nines in their Kentucky Derby finest, and hats and fascinators will be the order of the day. The gents will look dapper as well, and guests can expect to see lots of bright colors, pastel prints and that old Southern favorite, seersucker.
For Frederica parents, grandparents and alumni, however, the focus is on the school’s family.
“It’s a great blend of bringing together all of the Frederica Family,” said Thompson. “We roll out the green carpet.”
Visitors to the island also attend Derby Day, and Pope said some have even ended up moving to the Golden Isles and enrolling their kids in school there.
Powell said the success of the fundraiser is attributed to the fact that every dollar raised goes directly to the school, and those dollars affect every aspect of a student’s life, and plays a critical role in helping the school meet its financial obligations. Derby Day proceeds are generated from sponsorships, raffle tickets, event tickets and donated items for the auctions.
The school, which maintains a fairly small enrollment, is able to offer such enrichment programs and extracurricular activities such as football, track, baseball, theater and science programs due to Derby Day.
“Because every dollar goes to our school, our children get to try a little bit of everything,” said Powell. “It really captures the school’s mission of enriching each student’s mind, body and spirit.”
Powell said she and Thompson have both served on other boards of directors and chaired other nonprofit events, and Derby Day wins hands down.
“We’re able to provide so much student and teacher enrichment,” said Thompson. “We’re able to provide professional development training for faculty, and add new programs.”
“You can see your dollars at work,” said Powell.
Proving that Frederica Academy really takes its reputation as a family seriously, is proven in who’s serving alongside the Powells and Thompsons. Thompson’s sister, Laurie Watson, is in charge of sponsorships, and her brother, Trey Brunson, will again head up the simulcast. Among the younger generation, Powell’s and Thompson’s sons are heading up the marketing effort for the raffle, which has turned into a mini-marketing internship. Even the young alumni are in on the act this year, acting as helpers with the silent auction.
All in all, Frederica Academy Derby Day is a fun event for a great cause, and it’s a lot more economical that traveling to Louisville, Ky., for a weekend, for a very similar experience.
Tickets to the official Derby, in Churchill Downs, can run in the thousands of dollars, and even a standing spot in the infield, from which seeing the track is virtually impossible, will set you back $75 per person.
Tickets to the Frederica Academy event, said Powell and Thompson, are still available, and may be accessed at www.fredericaacademy.org.