There was music playing when a group of 25 invited guests arrived at the bucolic Sagamore Farm Thursday evening. All were offered a bourbon and honey-spiked libation called the “Pride of Baltimore” by the host, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, as beef filet, tuna steaks and lamb chops sizzled on the grill.
Soon, the ask would be made: Could you commit to a pledge of $25,000 annually for five years to help the University of Maryland’s football team improve its facilities and image?
“It’s part of an effort to win a championship in Maryland and it’s going to take donors to step up,” said Richard L. Jaklitsch, an Upper Marlboro lawyer with The Jaklitsch Law Group, radio host of “Terp Talk” and the new president of the Maryland Gridiron Network.
“This is the way that our competitors, Virginia Tech and Florida State, are supported by their donors. We’re committed to do that, and Coach (Randy) Edsall is committed to do that, too.”
Jaklitsch, a graduate of the university and its law school, said he has helped to raise $2 million in private donations for Terps football at two dinner parties last month as part of a personalized push to raise the profile and pedigree of the school’s football program within the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The fundraising drive came amid a downsizing of up to eight varsity teams at the university because of budget deficits in the athletic department.
Major athletic programs are turning more and more to private fundraising to support their activities and facilities. This summer’s $3 million resurfacing of Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium with a high-tech synthetic turf is being funded by a private gift.
The funds raised at the Maryland Gridiron Network parties will help pay for other needs, said Head Coach Randy Edsall, including upgraded facilities, academic support for players and training and diagnostic equipment.
“There’s only so much in dollars we’re allocated through our budget for us to be able to enhance our program and to make those enhancements now, so we need to go out and raise private dollars to make those things happen,” Edsall said Friday.
“We want to get ourselves on par with our competitors and have things we need to compete with our competitors in the ACC,” added the coach, whose team finished 2-10 last season in his first year at Maryland.
Edsall said he gladly attended both parties to help make the pitch.
“I just tell them that here’s the vision that we have, here’s what the program is built upon, what we’re all about and let them know the things that have taken place here in the last year and a half,” he said. “I tell them that we have made certain strides and here’s where this funding can help to take us to the level we need to get to.”
The first fundraiser was held at the chic Georgetown restaurant Michel Richard Citronelle in mid-June, where $1.2 million was pledged, Jaklitsch said.
Last week’s party at Sagamore Farm drew well-heeled guests who included Cal Ripken Jr., said Jaklitsch. Many stayed past 1 a.m., on a near-perfect early summer night at the historic Reisterstown countryside manor, he added.
After Plank, a former special teams captain for the Terps, and Edsall asked for donations, guests pledged $800,000, Jaklitsch said.
Another party is planned for later this summer, said Jaklitsch, a former president of the Terrapin Club, which raises funds for 27 sports at the university that include more than 700 student athletes.
He said he accepted Edsall’s request to head the Maryland Gridiron Network, which costs $250 to join, because of his love for the football program.
Of the $2 million raised so far, Jaklitsch said: “It just shows the belief people have in Randy Edsall. Randy Edsall is going to win championships.”
Edsall, busy preparing for the Terps’ opening game on Sept. 1 in College Park against the College of William and Mary, said he is equally optimistic.
“In terms of the things we have to offer and the type of program we have to run, we hope and expect that we can do the same thing from fundraising,” he said. “It’s all about going out there and being accessible and approachable. When you talk about it, it’s all for our program and our athletes. And, you know, people can relate to that.”