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Mule Days volunteers enjoy mutually beneficial relationship

May 22, 2012

Maureen Fishbeck and Kimberly Willingham (l-r) volunteer to man the Mule Days check-in booth at the main entrance to the fairgrounds to help support the Home Street Middle School Drill Team. Photo by Mike Gervais

Hospitality doesn’t just happen.
Covering all the bases takes effort and long-range planning. For decades now, a large number of community service, school athletic and religious organizations have formed the behind-the-scenes army of volunteer workers  that help make Mule Days happen. They line lots, muck stalls, meet and greet and provide other indispensable visitor- and participant-services for the event’s four-legged and two-legged guests.  
According to Executive Director Kim Craft, volunteers are crucial to hosting Mule Days and the money volunteer workers earn at Mule Days is in turn crucial to financing their own organizations. Eventually, the entire enterprise comes full circle because these organizations ultimately give so much back to the community.
Here is a closer look at these behind-the-scenes Mule Days volunteers, most of whom are affiliated with Bishop Unified School District.
A community service group affiliated with the Bishop Rotary Club, Interact is comprised of high school students who do good works such as hand-delivering handmade cards to residents of Sterling Heights and making and delivering 350 care packages for homeless people in San Diego (2011 and 2012) and 100 care packages for homeless and/or needy Bishop residents (2012), explained BUHS junior Ricki Willey, Interact president.
Interact does bleacher sweeps at Mule Days, checking tickets between events.  They may also lend a helping hand at the Rotarians’ Snack Shack at Bishop City Park, said Willey.
Interact uses their Mule Days earnings to shop for  care package items and to pay for gas and other travel expenses, explained Willey, adding that the money also helps to finance another important project, the annual year-end  international project. For example, last year, Interact sent drinking water to Japan’s tsunami victims and, the year before, they helped sponsor the sinking of wells in African countries.
Willey said “we love to volunteer for anything” and enjoy interacting with people.  “It’s fun and we appreciate that (Mule Days has) asked us to be involved and help out.”
As 10-year veteran volunteers at Mule Days, BUHS JV and varsity football teams and their parents will once again be providing fresh water to visitors in the RV lot, filling their tanks at a very reasonable rate. “It’s a lot of fun for (the boys and) it’s convenient for campers,” said head football coach Bill Egan.
Since some of the tanks hold up to 200 gallons, each service takes about 30 minutes so the players “get to meet and talk to a lot of nice people,” added Egan.
Ben Arcularius, head boys varsity basketball coach at BUHS, said that his entire team of 30-40 varsity players handles Mule Days souvenir program sales. They work Wednesday through Sunday at the fairground but get a head-start the week before Mule Days, supplying businesses, hotels and campgrounds with programs. On parade day, the team also enlists the help of parents and junior varsity coach Rock Baker to work the crowded streets.
Mule Days is one of the basketball team’s main fundraisers for the year, explained Arcularius. Money earned by working the event helps compensate for budget restrictions, he added, helping to provide uniforms, basketballs and other equipment, and cover some of the gym upkeep expenses. It also funds the Broncos’ off-season travel to tournaments and camps.
According to Arcularius, the boys “enjoy walking around, partnered up,” providing programs to the public. The team tries to get players involved as early as eighth grade, the coach added, so they have three or four years of Mule Days training by the time they make varsity. “They get pretty good at it” by then.
Bobbie Stryffeler, the newly-appointed BUHS dance team coach, stepped up when the dance team faced disbanding because it had no coach. Stryffeler has been involved with the dance team for six years as a parent of two dance team members so she’s no stranger to the dancers’ participation in Mule Days.
The dance team assists with  Mule Days Store operations such as inventory, set-up and merchandising and sales over the weekend, explained Stryffeler.
She added, “The parents are team players, too.  They are on site with the girls to ensure the Mule Days Store is operating in a most efficient and business-like way (and girls) provide beauty, smiles and cowgirl attitude!”
Mule Days earnings support the team on many levels. “The Bishop Union High School Dance Team is a competing team, which means travel and lodging in addition to performance uniforms and competition fees. This year we will also pay for assistance with choreographers to help the girls with routines and technique,” explained Stryffeler. This investment will pay off when the dance team performs at Bronco football and basketball home games, and the Mule Days and Christmas parades, she added.
The payoff for the dancers is more than just monetary. “The atmosphere at Mule Days is exceptionally nice; how can one complain. They  are honored to be able to perform in the parade as it gives the girls the opportunity to give a big ol’ thank you to all of those that support their numerous fundraising activities,” concluded Stryffeler.
BUHS agriculture teacher and Future Farmers of America club advisor Joe Buffington and his young farm hands take on the mountainous job of barns and stalls duty. The FFA Club has set up pens, lined trailers and maintained barns and stalls in general for more than 10 years. “We appreciate what Mule Days does, being an agriculture-based program. It’s nice to see the community support for such a large equine event,” said Buffington.
The club’s Mule Days money boosts other FFA fundraising earnings, all of which subsidizes farm improvements and maintenance, Buffington explained. However, most of it goes to sending these future farmers of America on leadership conferences and field trips to agricultural businesses.
Cheer advisor Sheri Nolan, who has participated in Mules Day for four years, said that the BUHS cheerleaders have been working the event for more than 10 years. The girls “enjoy and look forward to interacting with locals and people from out of town” as they assist with the Lions Club food booth, selling soda, water and popcorn in the grandstands. The girls and their parents also check tickets at the main entrance and at the various event entrance points  throughout the fairgrounds.  They also assist people in finding their seats and other Mule Days destinations.
The cheerleaders use their Mule Days earnings on uniforms, which are “pretty expensive,” said Nolan, and on their United Spirit Association camp which is  held annually in Santa Barbara and is where cheerleaders learn new stunting techniques and configurations and dances. It is also “good bonding time” for the girls and when they return from camp, they will bring all they have learned to the upcoming football season.
Stacy Van Nest, BUHS athletic director and softball coach, said, “Softball and volleyball (teams) have carried the banners in the Mule Days Parade for as long as I can remember – 11-plus years.” The two teams split the money and although the amount earned doesn’t cover the expense of even one tournament, it does help “towards (paying for) equipment, socks, visors, tournament entry fees and hotel costs.”
Shaun Joseph, head wrestling coach at BUHS for six years, and his athletes tackle the herculean task of creating the RV parking lots for Mule Days. They put in more than 300 man hours at Mule Days by working eight- to 10-hour days for three or four days, preparing the grounds before approximately 1,000 RVs roll in for the event. Under the guidance of former coach Kevin Bigham (1990-2007), Joseph and his Broncos must measure and mark and then paint lines and numbers for each  parking space, essentially creating a giant parking RV lot where there is none. And the work will be more gruelling this year since the team is a bit smaller than in former years so there are less hands among which to divide the labor.
The money they earn for this feat is reinvested in the squad’s two main fundraisers, which means the team goes back to work again, manning their Mule Days Bronco wrestling team soft-serve ice cream booth and their cubed and blocked ice service for vendors and campers. Finally, their hard-earned money pays for the majority of their sports equipment and travel costs. Unlike other sports, wrestlers must  always travel a long distance because there aren’t any local teams to compete against. The nearest ones are in Southern California and Fresno which requires either a one- or two-night hotel stay as well as fuel and other travel costs.
There are other, more subtle, dividends for the wrestlers’ Mule Days labors. The  work builds character because “it’s committed weekends where (the boys) are getting up early and working ‘til late in the evening,” explained Joseph. He wanted to be sure to mention that “we appreciate the parents, particularly the mothers, since one work weekend always falls on Mother’s Day.”
The middle school is not to be out-done by upper classmen. The Home Street Drill Team and Color Guard have been directing Mule Days traffic for more than 15 years, said coach Sherri Sonke, and in 2011 they were named Volunteer Group of the Year. For reasons of safety and liability, it’s the team parents who smoothly direct Mule Days participants and Mule Days visitors to their properly designated parking lots, explained Sonke.
The money earned at Mule Days goes toward transportation for resoundingly successful competitions throughout Southern California – the drill team has been undefeated in competition for the last 18 years, Sonke said. This accomplishment is even more impressive considering that these young Bishop athletes compete in a region where teams have exponentially larger talent pools from which to draw.
Last but far from least is the only non-Bishop Unified School District volunteer group.
Ted Rickford, First Presbyterian Church congregation member, will round  up the Presbyterian Potty Patrol, as the group has dubbed itself. The potty patrol rigorously cleans each of the seven fairgrounds bathrooms five or six times a day for eight days in a row. “People are always real appreciative of having clean bathrooms” during Mule Days, said Rickford. And, he added, he never has any trouble getting volunteers because the Presbyterian Potty Patrol enjoys its work detail.
The church has done restroom duty at Mule Days for the last 25 years. They work three shifts a day with up to six shifts on busy days; each shift consists of four to five potty patrollers. Usually at least 10 or 12 of the workers are young people, eager to earn money for summer camperships, explained Rickford. Campership funds send First Presbyterian congregation members to events such as Camp Joy, a Mammoth-based children’s camp operated by the Bishop Nazarene Church; Christian women’s retreats; and the Handbell Conference in Lake Tahoe.
Anyone interested in volunteering to build character, callouses and cash on behalf of their organization by volunteering at Mules Days in the future may contact the Mules Days office by phone at (760) 872-4263 or by e-mail at

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