WATSONVILLE—The Watsonville Jr. Wildcatz football and cheer programs were hit with a big surprise last month when thieves stole thousands of dollars worth of safe-and-sane fireworks intended to sell as a Fourth of July fundraiser.
Shanon Mornhinweg, president of Watsonville Cadillac Buick GMC at 500 Auto Center Drive, heard what happened through the grapevine. At that moment, he decided it was time to give something back to the community that’s invested so much into his business.
The former Oak Grove High football player and coach presented a $10,000 check to the Jr. Wildcatz during practice on Aug. 12. The generous donation comes at the perfect time as the season kicks off in less than two weeks.
“It was important to us to try and help these guys,” Mornhinweg said. “We have a dealership a few blocks from here and we want to be part of the community.”
Jr. Wildcatz president Jaime Garcia talked to the board of trustees and that’s where he found how much they’d be receiving. He was taken aback after he heard how much the program was getting.
“I was like, ‘What’s the catch?’” he said.
Mornhinweg said there’s no catch at all and not a penny needs to be returned. He added there are so many lessons to be learned by playing football such as working as a team and depending on someone else to get the job done.
“I do think football is a special sport. It’s the ultimate team game,” he said. “We wanted to make sure they were going to make it.”
The Jr. Wildcatz is a non-profit football and cheer program for children 4 to 14 years old. The fireworks booth during the Fourth of July holiday is the biggest fundraiser of the year to help pay for costs during the season.
A group of volunteers showed up on July 4 to set up for the day only to find out that the fireworks were stolen from the storage container.
Garcia immediately scrambled for a way to bounce back, reaching out to the fireworks company and getting donations on the day of the burglary. They received more fireworks and were able to sell them but at the end of the day they broke even.
“Basically we did four days of work for nothing,” he said.
An employee from the dealership went that same morning to buy fireworks. Garcia told them what happened and the employee told some of his co-workers about the incident.
The word got out to Mornhinweg, who said he was heartbroken for the organization after he heard the news of the stolen goods. He’s hoping the funds will be able to assist the Jr. Wildcatz in any way possible.
“How are they going to be able to get the kids and say they don’t have the money to pay for it and the equipment?” he said.
The donation will help with scholarships for up to 10 players who might need assistance paying for registration fees, which can cost $150 for the Mighty Mites level and $225 for Jr. Peewee, Peewee and Midget levels. That’s not including the $175 uniform cost.
The parents or guardians have requirements they need to fulfill in order for the players to be on the scholarship. Those requirements include volunteer hours and participation in fundraising.
Most of the other costs include paying referees for each game, new shirts for the coaches, travel expenses and food for 140 players and the coaching staff.
The football team has to send out equipment such as helmets and shoulder pads to get inspected every two years, which can cost up to $5,000 to get recertified.
The team also plans to purchase a new trailer to help haul equipment for out-of-town games.
Mornhinweg’s football bloodline runs deep in his family and the sport is important to them. His brother, Matt, coached in the NFL for several years, including on the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers from 1995-96 as an offensive assistant and the quarterbacks coach under head coach Mike Holmgren.
Matt was the starting quarterback for Oak Grove and he led them to a Central Coast Section championship in 1978, where Holmgren was an assistant coach.
Shanon’s sons were also involved in youth sports and they continue to miss playing because of the relationships they built and the community that surrounds the programs.
“This gets kids out from their social media, it gets them out of the digital age,” he said. “It’s so easy to sit behind a computer. I just want to make sure [the Jr. Wildcatz] had whatever they needed.”
Garcia said they’re extremely happy and grateful for the big donation by Mornhinweg, especially because he did when the team needed it the most.
“I’m still shocked, I mean that’s a big amount,” Garcia said. “For somebody to say ‘here’ and without having kids on the program or relatives involved… we’re thankful and it’s really going to help us.”