The Bryant Hornet Touchdown Club isn’t just about football. It’s about community. Formed four years ago, the club formerly was a traditional booster club. Establishing it as a nonprofit organization has given the club more fundraising power, which in turn has improved the overall sports experience for everyone.
Mark Knowles, a career police officer for 28 years, was the original president of the Bryant Hornet Touchdown Club and still serves in that capacity. “I felt we could do much better supporting our football program and our school if we did away with the old booster club format and formed the Hornet Touchdown Club.”
Mark has always been interested in football. It runs in the family. A Bryant graduate himself, his father, Jerry Knowles, was a standout paler at Central High School in Little Rock. His brothers Eric and Jason, brother-in-law Mark, nephew Wesley, and Mark’s son, Hayden, all were “great players at Bryant,” he says.
This change to form a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization came at a good time, he notes, adding that it coincided with Coach Buck James’ arrival. “The coach had a list of things he wanted to accomplish with the football program, with a majority of that list centered on the success of the Touchdown Club,” Mark says.
“One of the centerpieces was to have a nutrition program in place,” Mark says, “which really meant he wanted food in our facility every day we had players there, so our peanut butter and jelly, honey and chocolate milk campaign was born. This offering started with just football and now every sport enjoys the food service.”
The club goes through more than 40 loaves of bread, 40 pounds of peanut butter, 30 pounds of jelly and more than 500 chocolate milk cartons a week, Mark says.
Because of corporate sponsorships, donations, and funds raised by the Hornet Touchdown Club, players all wear the same clothes for workouts and pre-game preparation. The equipment and re-invention of the indoor practice facility have all been made possible through the Touchdown Club.
Four years ago when the organization was established, Mark asked trusted individuals to help him and commit to a two-year post. Founding board members who agreed to serve (even after their sons graduated) include Dale Welch, John Kimbrough, Becky Smith, Traci Fox and Teresa Kemp.
In addition to Mark, Dale still serves as vice president and Traci as treasurer. Scott Curtis, a Bryant alumnus, now serves on the board, in addition to Patrick Schroeder and Sandy Orender. “These individuals who all have full-time employment work tirelessly to make our football program better for our players and staff.”
On a daily basis, Mark works with Bryant’s coaching staff to fill the needs of the football program. And now that the program has grown so much, board members raise funds every day to meet the demands.
“The way our coaching staff works makes our work a year-round process. As soon as we won the state championship this past season, these board members and parents went back to work preparing for the upcoming season,” Mark says.
All of this work is done the “#212 way.” “The #212 way means maximum effort. At 211 degrees water is just hot. At 212 degrees, it’s boiling. Steam is produced and steam powers engines and engines drive the trains down the tracks,” Mark says.
“Coach James and our staff ask for that one extra degree from our players and our parents,” he adds, “to be the best in everything we do. And that includes the classroom as well.”
The #212 campaign has been an important branding tool in binding together the school and the community. “We have so many great things going on in the Bryant School District, from our new sports, to engineering and robotics; our award-winning yearbook staff to cheer; dance and all of our sports, including the best band in the state. Our players believe that when they step out on that field they are the best prepared team in the stadium. And that is what #212 has brought us.”
Support for the Hornet Touchdown Club comes from all sectors, Mark says. “I wouldn’t be telling the whole story if I didn’t mention that with all this comes great responsibility to conduct our business the right way and to represent our team and our school to the best of our ability. Our administration at Bryant is second to none. Our athletic director, Mike Lee, our superintendent, Dr. Karen Walters, and our principal, Dr. Todd Edwards, have all been unbelievable supporters. The access they have allowed me as a volunteer is incredible and I take it and their trust very seriously. Every elementary school, our middle schools and our main campus share in the success we have had because all of them and their administrations have been a part of it.”