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How a northern Indiana school gains cash for athletics at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Hundreds clear trash after 108th Indianapolis 500

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Volunteers cleaning up Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Monday told News 8 that pitching in helps them as much as it does the track.

Nearly 50 members of Southwood High School’s football, girls volleyball and cheerleading teams, along with parents and coaches, spent the morning clearing trash from the grandstands along the front straightaway. Working in small groups, team members from the school near Wabash in northern Indiana systematically cleared beer cans, spilled food, and plastic bags in the aisles, from the track walls to the penthouse seats.

Gabe Mealy, a football team captain who will begin his senior year this fall, says he’s been taking part in the cleanup for the past four years. “I know I’m helping out the school because of the fundraising money we get from this,” he said. “It keeps me coming back.”

An IMS spokesperson tells News 8 that about 750 volunteers from 17 different nonprofits signed up to help clean up the track. Groups of volunteers signed up in advance. In exchange for their help cleaning up, IMS officials say, they donate between $700 and $6,000 to each group depending on its size and the size of the area of the track assigned to it.

Thomas Tyree, Southwood High School’s head football coach, says the track cleanup is the school’s largest athletic fundraiser each year. He said this year’s money will go toward new helmets, pads and an end zone camera for the football team, and knee pads and shoes for the volleyball team.

“Helmets are really expensive these days,” he said. “To be able to get new shoulder pads, to be able to just fit our kids with some of the best protective gear out there, I mean, I think it just kind of makes the parents feel safer.”

Southwood High School Athletic Director Tom Finicle said the school has raised at least $200,000 in the 12 years in which it has taken part in the IMS cleanup. He said IMS’ donations will be enough to cover all of the volleyball program’s needs for an entire year.

Mealy, who plays both tight end and wide receiver, says he’s looking forward to a new set of shoulder pads this fall. “Being a small school, we don’t have a ton of donations or other fundraising, and this is a pretty large amount of money for our school,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to have new things. It makes the season more enjoyable.”