Gladiators raise $27,000 for community

DULUTH - For the last year, generous fans of the Gwinnett Gladiators have been buying up items like game-worn jerseys and hand-painted Christmas ornaments.

In total, the ECHL franchise has raised upward of $27,000 - and now they're giving it back.

The Gladiators return that money to the community through a program called "For the Kids Night."

Jim Hall, the team's director of community relations, has been taking and reviewing applications throughout the fall and winter. It's an extensive process for the selection committee and today during the Gladiators' home game against Florida, Hall will present 26 organizations with funds.

They'll do it in front of a full house, too. Pre-sales of tickets were already over 5,000 as of Friday afternoon.

"These people are in the community and making a difference," Hall said. "It's a good feeling and obviously I think it shows we care."

Among those receiving funds are four county schools, the American Diabetes Association, Foster Children's Foundation and the Gwinnett Parks Foundation. The list includes the expected and the unexpected, from the Peachtree Hockey Boosters to a pair of ballet companies.

The Community Foundation for North Georgia, which works in conjunction with the Gladiators to maintain this endowment, is also getting a donation.

"The message for me is two-fold," Hall said. "There are people in our local world who are doing very great things ... educating kids and helping people advance themselves.

"The other side of this is you have to tip your helmet to the fans because they are the ones that are buying into these things."

Last spring, one fan paid $3,000 for Mike Vigilante's jersey at an auction. This Christmas, a set of ornaments painted by rookie forward Guillaume Desbiens went for $150. The team's own booster club has given money to the fund as well.

"Without this, there's nothing," Hall said. "I think the fans should really be saluted because of their extraordinary generosity.

"I feel very fortunate to be on the front line here. It's a huge aspect of our team that people may be unaware of."

By design, the vast majority of the fund will be depleted with today's presentation. But March 12 is Military Jersey Night with an auction to follow. From there, Hall and the Gladiators will spend the next year or so building the account back up in order to give it all away again.

The Gwinnett Gladiators raise money through things like jersey and hand-painted ornament auctions. Those funds are then distributed to worthy community organizations. The presentation is being made today at the Gladiators' home game against Florida. Here's a complete list of those receiving donations:

•The American Diabetes Association

•B.B. Harris Elementary School

•Camp Kudzu

•The Community Foundation for Northeast Georgia

•Dream House

•Eagle Ranch

•Foster Children's Foundation

•Gwinnett Ballet Theatre

•Gwinnett Parks Foundation

•Hero for Children

•J.M. Tull YMCA

•Louise Radloff Middle School

•Math Counts Georgia

•Meadowcreek High School

•Norcross Cooperative Ministry

•Notre Dame Academy

•Peachtree Charter Middle School

•Peachtree Hockey Boosters

•Peachtree Ridge High

•School Band Boosters

•Rainbow Village

•Salvation Army

•South Gwinnett Rotary

•South Gwinnett Athletic Association

•Southeast Gwinnett Co-op

•Southern Ballet Theatre

•Sports Development Foundation