When the 650 guests for the 10th annual Tiger Auction and Dinner start arriving Saturday afternoon at Fort Hays State University’s Schmidt-Bickel Indoor Training Facility, they will see a brand new 35-foot 2019 Van Hool motorcoach bus with room for about three dozen passengers parked in front on Elm Street.

The FHSU Tiger athletics bus is one of the items purchased with proceeds from the ninth annual Tiger Auction and Dinner, said Matt Cook, assistant athletic director for Fort Hays.

“It’s in support of Tiger Athletics and it is our biggest fundraiser of the year. Typically, the last couple years we’ve been raising over $200,000 with the auction each year,” Cook said. “Last year it was in the $230,000 range, so hopefully this year we grow off of that.”

All the money raised goes back to the FHSU Athletic Department to help meet the budget, scholarships, travel expenses and general fund purchases.

In addition, items that will be purchased this year with money from Auction Item No. 40, which is the chance during the auction to make an outright cash donation, will pay for new NFL-style goal posts for Lewis Field Stadium, new basketball goals in Gross Memorial Coliseum, a new scoreboard and sound system at the Tiger Stadium softball facility, and backstop netting and new batting cages at Larks Park, among other things.

“We always pick out something that we really want to get, or work toward,” said Cook. “Last year it was transportation ... men’s soccer just took it the other day to Omaha to play soccer.”

The number of guests attending the banquet buffet and live and silent auction has grown each year since the event was first held in the Black and Gold Room of the Memorial Union, where it maxed out at 450 people. Cook said 604 people attended in 2018. The training facility holds about 800, he said, so there’s room to grow.

Doors open at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, dinner is at 5:30 p.m., and auction items on four different tables are rolled out in timed stages, with the event wrapping up by 10 p.m.

This year there are more than 93 live auction items up for sale, and more than 200 silent auction items, each one donated by a business, alums, someone in the local community or FHSU Athletics. The auction catalog is 42 pages.

“We get a lot of really nice things,” Cook said. “Wolf Furniture is doing a bedroom set that is really expensive, all the furniture stores in town will normally donate something. We try to Tigerize a lot of things. The more customized things are, the more excited people are about them.”

Donations range from an eight-person trip to St. Thomas for six days and six nights, valued at $13,500, to many custom items, including a refrigerator, pop-up basketball backboard, neon Fort Hays sign, etched bottles of Crown Royal and Jack Daniels, clocks, a table, wall hangings, an ice chest, and many others. Fans of the Kansas City Chiefs, the Denver Broncos and other sports teams will find items to their liking too, including a green and white New York Jets jersey, No. 97, of Nathan Shepherd, a former FHSU football player.

“There’s no way we could do it without the businesses in town,” said Cook, a Russell native who earned both his bachelor’s and graduate degrees from Fort Hays.

“Every year it just grows and grows,” said Gary Wentling, who was on hand with a dozen volunteers Thursday morning to help set up. Wentling was on the original organizing committee.

“We needed something like this,” he said of the decision 10 years ago to hold an auction and banquet. “We had a lot of individual donors who wanted to help.”

Now, about two dozen committee members solicit all the donations for the auction, a time-consuming undertaking, he said, but the broad range of items means there’s something for everyone.

“People can help financially, but they don’t have to give thousands of dollars,” Wentling said. “People can come and see something they need, well, they might not need it, but they want it anyway, so they can buy it.”

While the setting feels elegant, with white banquet chairs, white tablecloths and black and gold cloth napkins, and an ample buffet, the event is not fancy, said Wentling.

“We try to make it a really nice event, where everybody can come to it,” he said. “But it’s not black tie, it’s casual.”

Ticket sales are closed for this year’s event, but Cook reminds Tiger fans that starting in late spring or early summer 2020, the $75 tickets will go on sale for the 11th annual Tiger Auction and Dinner.

“It’s the biggest event in Hays. Where else do you get 650 people in one spot?” Cook said. “People look forward to it.”