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Gun raffle aims to raise money for ice hockey

Simon Irish signs his name on a pool square for a 338 Lapoua rifle during last year’s West Fargo Hockey Association’s gun raffle at the Holiday Inn of Fargo. Dave Wallis

The West Fargo Hockey Association will be hosting its third annual fundraising gun raffle on Saturday, where they will raffle 300 guns to ticket holders, with 1-in-20 odds of winning.

The raffle will take place during a banquet at the Holiday Inn in Fargo, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

The WFHA has roughly 450 members between the ages of 3 and 15, but lately has seen a yearly increase of 20 percent in membership. This means some teams have to start practice at 6 a.m., while others may not finish until 10 p.m.

“With that increase, along with the continuous growth of West Fargo, there is a need for more ice,” association Past President Cal Helgeson said. “Something needs to change there.”

Since they started the raffle in 2012, the money raised – roughly $160,000 so far – has been set aside to build a new hockey facility in the city.

However, the WFHA received a lot of publicity, much of it negative, for their fundraising efforts last year. In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting – where 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and six staff members at school in Newtown, Conn. – the story of a hockey club for children raising money by raffling firearms caught the attention of the national media, including The New York Times, the Huffington Post and even the Irish Times.

“I never thought I would see my name in Sports Illustrated,” Helgeson said. “We were getting blasted. My inbox filled up, and (WFHA board member Mike Prochnow’s) inbox filled up. The Associated Press somehow got my cellphone number.”

Helgeson and Prochnow then spent the next several weeks explaining that the raffle was being planned almost the day after their first raffle, and they had nothing violent in mind when organizing the event.

“Our heritage in this area is hunting, fishing and the outdoors,” Helgeson said. “These are all hunting platforms. Guns can do harm no matter what platform they are in. It really doesn’t matter if a gun looks scary. Ours are designed for the sportsman.”

All of the negativity, however, brought in a sea of positivity to the WFHA mailbox, as well-wishers from a variety of locations offered their support.

“It was really good to see,” Helgeson said. “For the amount of negative comments we received, it was probably 20-to-one positive. Anytime someone was bashing us, the nation supported what we were doing. People from all over wanted to donate. They didn’t even care about the tickets. They just wanted to give to the cause.”

All that support translated into an increase in earnings, as the club made roughly $100,000 at their 2013 raffle, almost $40,000 more than the year before.

This year, they have added 100 more guns and 2,000 more tickets, hoping to reach $150,000 in total earnings.

The 300 guns to be raffled have an average cost of $450, with the grand prize of a 2014 Polaris Ranger side-by-side utility vehicle to be drawn first. If the winner would like, guns can be traded in for store credit at Scheels on 45th Street in Fargo.

There are roughly 300 tickets still available, which can be purchased for $40 at Scheels, M&J Saloon, Bordertown and WorkZone.

“The biggest thing to keep in mind is what this will all do for the community and the metro area once the rink is in place,” Helgeson said. “Think of what it will do once we can host multi-day tournaments in the summer. Everybody benefits from this, and that is obvious to our sponsors who support it.”

Saturday’s banquet is open to anyone who would like to attend, and costs $10 at the door. Ticket holders do not need to be present to win.