Bags 4 Buczek has been wildly successful in the years since the cornhole tournament began in 2013 as a way to raise money for scholarships in memory of Tyler Buczek, a 15-year-old Port High freshman who drowned in Lake Michigan.
Although the event wasn’t held this year as a result of the coronavirus, it is positioning itself to become more successful and help even more people in the years to come by merging with Mel’s Charities.
“Tyler would be all in on it,” his father Joe said, noting that after his son’s death people told him stories of how his son would quietly help others when they were struggling.
“When we do this, I have that thought in my head,” Buczek said. “He would appreciate it.”
Partnering with Mel’s Charities, another successful local nonprofit that raises money to help people in Ozaukee County, is a natural fit, he said.
“I told Tom (Stanton, Mel’s executive director) that in a way we’ve tried to emulate what you’re doing but on a smaller scale,” Buczek said. “I totally trust what they do.”
Mel’s has raised and donated more than $1 million in the 20 years since it was founded, with a primary emphasis on special needs, memorial scholarships and human service organizations.
Buczek estimated that Bags 4 Buczek has raised about $70,000 since it was founded.
The annual fundraising event, which has grown from just the cornhole tournament to include a beer garden, brought in between $10,000 and $12,000 annually, Bags 4 Buczek founder Gary Knaub said.
The scholarship fund is largely self-sustaining, he said, so organizers have expanded the mission.
Buczek said the group financed equipment for baseball umpires, noting that his son was an umpire for Port Youth Baseball, and equipment for the Saukville Rebels youth football team.
Two years ago, the mission expanded again. Funds from Bags 4 Buczek went to family who incurred substantial medical bills when their young daughter needed a liver transplant.
“I thought, ‘What if we donate money for things like that?’” Buczek said. “And that’s in the spirit of what Mel’s does.”
Stanton said the partnership with Bags 4 Buczek grew not just through a shared sense of purpose but also from the admiration he, Knaub and Buczek have for each others’ work.
The thought behind the partnership, he said, is “If we could join forces to keep going what we have going, think of what we can do and the impact we can have.”
“It’s perfect,” Stanton said. “We don’t feel like we’re taking on more than we can handle. These guys have built something people look forward to.”
The organizers of Bags 4 Buczek will continue to run the event with the backing and support of Mel’s.
Knaub added, “To be able to partner with Mel’s Charities and continue to carry on Tyler Buczek’s legacy is the perfect recipe to impact additional lives. Tyler was such a good kid. He would be all over this — that’s why we do it.”
While the coronavirus pandemic put plans for this year’s Bags 4 Buczek on hold, the partnership is making plans for a larger 10th annual event on Sept. 18, 2021.
Bags 4 Buczek will continue to be held in Port on the third Saturday in September, the organizers said.
Plans are in the works to augment the event with a fall or winter event. Stanton said Mel’s is working with Pitch for Matt, a bags tournament run in honor of Grafton High School senior Matt Malkowski, who died in 2010 after a car accident. That event may be held in February or March, and they may operate the two in conjunction with one another.
Knaub helped the Malkowski family set up its tournament to finance the Matthew Malkowski Memorial Field, a baseball field at the Grafton Little League Baseball Complex, Buczek said, and the family has also reached out to Mel’s to operate its event.
“The goal is, if we can grow this, we might be able to do more,” Stanton said.
For Buczek, the goal is more personal.
“By joining with Mel’s, our resources have grown and we can do more good for more people,” he said, all while keeping Tyler’s memory alive.
“I want people to just remember him,” he said. “He mattered. People still remember that — and that makes it a good day.”