The unbreakable will of this Pennsylvania town

LOWER ALLEN TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Sometimes, a community’s relationship with its culture and its people is so strong it can withstand anything that tries to break it apart. Such durability is a testimony to the sense of what Americans have within their communities.

On social media, we mostly read about traditions falling to the mob or, worse yet, to one person’s outrage. It’s rarer to see what happened in this Cumberland County town, where the community swiftly came to the defense of the Cedar Cliff Colts High School football booster club.

Across the country, booster clubs are a critical part of high school sports’ success, especially in rural and inner-city school districts where the funds allocated to sports programs have shrunk over the years. The parent-led volunteer clubs help raise money so their student players can have things like new helmets to replace aged and unsafe ones.

Here in this school district, as in thousands of districts across the country, raising money has been a challenge because COVID-19 has killed the fundraising.

The Cedar Cliff Colts booster club has an annual obligation to raise around $50,000 for new equipment. Running out of options, the volunteer parents came up with a fundraising plan that suited the traditions of the community — have both the volunteers of the booster club and the parents of the players sell raffle tickets offering 10 different prizes, five of which were guns.

Gun ownership around here is pretty normal. But this didn’t sit well with one parent at the high school. She complained to the school board, which informed her that the booster club was under no obligation to receive district approval for its fundraisers.

She then took it to the local paper, saying, “I cannot support something that is potentially putting guns in more homes of the teenagers I see, knowing the stats.”

Then something remarkable happened: nothing.

The school, citing its lack of jurisdiction over the matter, didn’t try to stop the event. The community didn’t storm the school with protests outside its doors. It was hard to find any evidence of outrage, even on social media.    

David Ellis, the owner of DnJ Precision Custom Firearms and Ammo, is supplying the guns for the raffle.

“People around here have a deep respect for guns,” he said. “They own them, they use them in practice in hunting and target shooting. They teach their children at a young age the same values and the importance of gun safety.”

It is about as common to own a gun around here as it is to own a car.

Ellis said what is most important to know is what happens after someone wins one of the guns in the raffle. “If it’s the pistol, they can’t be under 21,” he explained. “If they won the rifle or shotgun, they have to be 18, and then they have to fill out the federal 4473 form.”

If they pass the federal background check, they have to go through the Pennsylvania state background check as well. “So it’s a quite extensive process that they have to go through,” he said. “They’re not handed over to them like, ‘Hey, you won. Here is your gun.’ There’s a legal aspect to it that they have to go through first.”

Raffle winners can also choose $200 in prize money in lieu of the gun.

Ellis said last year began a big rush of first-time gun owners to his shop because of both the pandemic and the riots across the country. He handles those shoppers with the most care.

“When they tell me they’re a first-timer or they don’t know much, we really screen things before we consider selling them the gun. Like, do they want to learn to handle a firearm? And if we come across somebody who clearly doesn’t understand, we stop the process,” he said.        

To date, no one has come to the shop to complain to Ellis for participating in the raffle — in fact, he said he has received the opposite reaction.

“What I have heard is overwhelming support for it,” he said.

In an era when it is all too common for communities to bend over backward for the angriest person in the room, this community refused to buckle.

The voice of one malcontent person failed to cancel out the good of many.

So, supporting the booster club’s efforts is just another way to make the sense of community stronger — which explains why this community did not give in.

 Salena Zito  is  a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner.