Vongni Yang, The Union Democrat

In collaboration with Sonora High School and athletic director Rick Francis, the first youth Mother Lode Sports Festival will be hostedSaturday, Nov. 2on campus.

The festival is a celebration of sports and a benefit and fundraiser for The Central America Sports & Education Project.

Scott Schoettgen, a 2006 Sonora High graduate, is in charge of the philanthropy project and hopes this informative event will gather the sports fanatics in the community to support his cause.

"I want to create an event that is also promoting the quality and accessibility of sports in the Mother Lode area," Schoettgen said. "That's really what the event is about, improving the amount of participation in sports and the quality."

Schoettgen was a four-sport sensation for the Wildcats, earning varsity letters in basketball, football, soccer and tennis. He played college basketball and football at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., where he set the school-record with 36 touchdown receptions as a wide receiver.

After a standout collegiate career and graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in exercise science, Schoettgen signed with the Arena Football League's San Jose Sabercats in 2011, where he played professionally for two years.

Francis recalled how positive Schoettgen was as a student-athlete during his time at Sonora.

"Scott Schoettgen was an absolutely fantastic athlete," Francis said. "He was what you kind of call an all-around student in every aspect of that. It didn't matter what group you were associated with, Scott respected everybody."

On the day of the festival, a station for just about every sport will be led by high school coaches and players in the area. Participants will have the opportunity to compete in friendly challenges that ranges from a three-point shooting contest to a wiffle ball home run derby.

Exciting competitions and games pertaining to each sport will also be included during the event.

"Every sport is represented in a really fun way," Schoettgen said. "It gives kids a fun opportunity to try out sports that they may not have that type of opportunity unless they enroll themselves in one of the leagues."

"It's a great opportunity for the youth to experience the different activities that they can get involved in," Francis said. "I think it's a very big deal. I know that Scott Schoettgen has put in a lot of hours in this thing, and it's going to be a lot of fun. I hope people in the community jump on board."

Schoettgen, who now works for Beyond Sports, an international and service learning organization for college student-athletes as program coordinator and director of strength and conditioning, was inspired to start the project after traveling to Central America to work and help run free youth camps for children in underserved communities in Costa Rica.

That life-changing experience motivated Schoettgen, who lives part time in Costa Rica, to raise money for underfunded community projects, including renovations of school facilities. He said the median household income for that country is around $1,100 per month and schools are in serious need of repairs.

"Schools are really underfunded, so kids are broken up into two different groups: morning groups for three hours and an afternoon group," Schoettgen said. "There's not enough funding to get kids to school full time. A lot of time, school facilities are very different. The idea of a technology classroom is kind of a foreign concept. They'll usually have like a little combination basketball court and a soccer field to kick around. No football field. There isn't like a big gym."

After seeing that kind of limited resources, Schoettgen wanted to do more. With the help of his good friend and former Sabercat teammate McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who is now a quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings, the two set out to raise money for the children back in Central America through a nonprofit organization called Glasswing International that specializes in coordinating school renovations.

Their combined effort led to the formation of The Central American Sports & Education Project after getting in touch with Glasswing International vice president Celina De Sola.

"I always wanted to contribute philanthropically with my resources," Bethel-Thompson said. "Meeting Celina and seeing the programs already in place I could help out with lowers our barrier to entry, so I just jumped on the opportunity. I'm connected to El Salvador in my blood. It's important project for me."

There are three local high school students committing to the cause as well.

As part of their senior projects, Wildcat student-athletes Will Collamer, Tait Mele and Derek Smith have pitched in on their own time to assist with the event. Collamer serves as a promoter, Mele is in charge of securing sponsors and secondary funding, and Smith is working on his own side project that will help the cause in the future.

"Will, Tait and Derek have all been extremely enthusiastic about this project from the beginning," Schoettgen said. "Each of them are working on a separate component of it for their senior projects, but all of them are a huge asset. It's a great opportunity for them to contribute to their community through something they care about, but for them to also be connected with a project that will operate on an international scale."

Check in is at9:30 a.m., and the festival runs from10-2 p.m.From3-4 p.m., Schoettgen will give an interactive presentation on sports for personal, community and global development inside Bud Castle Gym.

A free limited edition water bottle will be given to the first 500 people who register online atwww.motherlodesportsfestival.com.

The cost to register is $5 per person and $15 for a family.

The ultimate goal is to raise $25,000 for school renovations and youth sports clinics.

All proceeds from the festival will benefit The Central American Sports & Education Project.

"Sports is a vehicle to open up a conversation about something," Schoettgen said. "It's unbelievable what sports have been able to do around the world. We are trying to get to the heart of that. Being able to do good through sports and connect with people. We chosen to support education projects because education is the most powerful thing that you can improve to make positive changes in the world."