Will Dunman is among the many who have reaped the generosity of the Mogollon Sporting Association.
"The MSA is a tremendous asset to our town and schools," he said.
As the Payson Elementary School principal, Dunman's teachers and students now have SMART Boards -- or touch sensitive interactive white boards --n the school's computer classroom. The boards were purchased last spring with money donated by the MSA.
The principal, who also coaches the Lady Longhorn softball team, received a double-dose benefit from MSA when the organization purchased backstop pads and shielding for the PHS softball field.
The money the sporting association has available to donate is mostly raised at annual banquets. The gala festivities have been for the past 15 years a much-anticipated highlight of the spring social and sports season.
Hundreds of MSA supporters enthusiastically flock to the banquets, which include a copious dinner, silent auctions, live auctions, raffles, early bird drawings and plenty of the small-town camaraderie Payson is renowned for.
Those who attend, which includes some of the town's most accomplished residents, do so knowing their celebratory evening is for a great cause.
The MSA, a nonprofit organization, has as a mission to raise funds to benefit youth and wildlife programs around the Rim Country. All members are volunteers, and 100 percent of the proceeds will be used to enhance the community.
This year's banquet, the 16th annual, will be held May 3 at the Mazatzal Hotel and Casino. The doors open at 5 p.m. for a no-host cocktail hour.
It will be followed by the dinner, auctions and raffles.
Those who purchase their tickets, $75 each before April 1, will be entered in an early bird drawing that has prizes which include a Remington Model 750 Carbine Special Edition or a Four Peaks Amethyst and diamond necklace with matching earrings set in white gold.
New to the banquet this year will be a special "Rhino Raffle" in which 100 tickets will be sold for $150 each.
The prize is a 2008 Yamaha Rhino 700 fuel-injected automatic with four-wheel drive and on-command drive selection. The Rhino can be seen at Four-Season Motor Sports.
The winner must be in attendance at the banquet.
Another raffle highlight will be the large assortment of rifles and pistols.
"We already have over 100 firearms," MSA member Ted Pettet said.
Other raffle and auction items will include camping equipment, archery gear, art, collectibles and jewelry.
Tickets are available for purchase from any MSA member or by calling Jack Koon at (928) 474-1662.
The MSA funds a myriad of school, wildlife and conservation projects around the Rim Country.
In its 15 years of existence, the MSA has raised more than $1 million which has been used for such projects as hosting high school sports tournaments, building wildlife guzzlers, reseeding forest burn areas, purchasing uniforms for youth teams and musical instruments for school bands and upgrading the stage and lighting system for the Payson High School drama club.
Years ago, MSA purchased metal detectors for use by Arizona Game and Fish Department officers when investigating poaching and other criminal acts.
Only last fall, MSA co-founder Gary Barcom helped a national organization called Hunt of A Lifetime provide an archery elk hunt for a 17-year-old Denver, Colo. boy suffering from a life-threatening disease.
For the hunt, the teen was given an elk tag won in a Game and Fish raffle by former MSA member Bill Wilcox. A year earlier, Wilcox died after a five-month battle with liver cancer.
In 2004, the MSA gave the town parks and recreation department $2,800 as a matching grant that was used to purchase and erect the bleachers on the north side of the new multipurpose field at Rumsey Park.
Several years ago, a day-long joint effort of Arizona Game and Fish, the U.S. Forest Service, the MSA and 10 Payson High School wrestlers, renovated a pristine area near Black Canyon Lake.
Among those who participated was MSA member Ray LaHaye.
"It was hard work, but it was a good day in which everybody benefited," he said.
The project goal was to spruce up about a two-mile long creek bed area near a forest fire burn that was in the process of restoration.
The bed was clogged with debris and when spring runoffs began, the water couldn't flow freely. Which resulted in the nearby restoration area being damaged by flooding.
The group effort corrected the problems.
A job well done
The accomplishments of the MSA have not gone unnoticed.
To honor its contributions, the Arizona Game and Fish Department bestowed the MSA with statewide recognition as the Conservation Organization of the Year in 2006.
In August 2005, at the Scottsdale Resort and Conference Center, the MSA was inducted into the Outdoor Hall of Fame.
According to Steve Hirsch, president of the Wildlife for Tomorrow Foundation that sponsors the Arizona Hall of Fame, MSA was chosen because of the contributions the organization makes in the Rim Country.
"The Mogollon Sporting Association is a perfect example of how a group of dedicated individuals can have a very positive effect on wildlife and people as well," Hirsch said.
"Their program to utilize youth volunteer labor not only gets the job done, but also instills an appreciation for the great outdoors in these young people."
As a member of the hall of fame, the MSA joined previous inductees Arizona Ducks Unlimited (2001), Arizona Desert Big Horn Sheep Society (2000), Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (2004) and Anglers United (2002).
Four years ago, the MSA received the Arizona State Schools Public Relation Association's Award of Merit for its longtime support of school programs.
Then-president Judy Baker traveled to Phoenix Metro Tech to accept the prestigious award.
"We are thrilled and honored to receive the award," she said at the time. "But we don't do it for the recognition. We are just trying to help out schools and the wildlife."
Pat Willis is currently serving as the president of MSA.
The early days
In 1991, inside the now-closed Country Kitchen restaurant, a group of town movers-and-shakers huddled over cups of coffee, setting the MSA's foundation.
Among them were Craig Swartwood and Pettet, both former Payson mayors, who said their intent in founding the new organization was to build an outdoors-focused organization that would spend its money in Payson rather than shipping it off to an out-of-state headquarters.
The founders agreed that the new association's goal would be to raise enough money to support Payson schools, local youth programs, the town economy and outdoor conservation projects.
Following each spring banquet -- which is the association's chief fund-raiser --he profits are tallied and the MSA governing board gathers to consider requests for donations. There are always plenty of requests, mostly because strapped school budgets rarely fully fund extracurricular activities.
The success the MSA is now enjoying comes as no surprise to Swartwood.
"I was always confident it would do well," he said.