The Ironwood Ridge golf representatives posing for a photo alongside Norman the Nighthawk and school principal Matt Munger. The Nighthawks won this year’s Oro Valley Cup.

For the 17th year in a row, golfers from throughout the north side laced up their shoes, cleaned their clubs and set out on the green in support of local teens.

Last Friday was more than a simple day to soak in the sun, as hundreds of business owners, politicians and community members gathered at the Oro Valley Community and Recreation Center to play the Oro Valley Cup, the single largest fundraiser for Project Graduation efforts within the Amphitheater public school district.

Project Graduation is a lock-in event held at three local high schools allowing graduating seniors the opportunity to enjoy an all-night party on campus under the supervision of adults instead of taking to the streets and house parties to celebrate. The concept isn’t an Oro Valley invention by any means, but was started locally nearly two decades ago by former council member Mary Snider.

Before her stead in Oro Valley, Snider and her family lived in California and experienced the community-wide benefit of hosting students at the high school. 

“The energy on graduation night can sometimes be fatal and dangerous, so we want to provide them an alternative activity, and for 16 years, it’s been sold out,” Snider said. “Kids come and they love it, and now it’s legendary.”

When Snider moved to town, she knew in her heart the public would benefit from such an initiative—so she brought the idea to Oro Valley Police Department Chief Daniel Sharp.

It wasn’t a difficult sell, and the rest is history (in the making).

“Our most valuable renewable resource is the youth,” Sharp said. “The fact that the community sees that and comes out year after year…That’s what makes Oro Valley special; how the community rallies and takes care of our kids.”

Though the 2020 cup was Sharp’s last as police chief, he said it’s not his last as an Oro Valley resident. 

While the community has bought into the concept of a safe graduation night, it’s the educators, administrators and hundreds and volunteers who watch every year as students share one last night of fun together before they head off into “adult life.”

To put it lightly, Canyon del Oro High School Principal Tara Bulleigh called Project Graduation a “big deal.”

“We all remember our graduation nights and we heard about a lot of stuff going on and we tried to stay away from those parties, but our kids look forward to this,” Bulleigh said. “It keeps them all together for one last hurrah after graduation. They have a blast, they stay the whole night, they’re safe and off the streets and no one is driving.”

For their efforts, Snider and Sharp were recognized in front of the assembled players and volunteers and awarded plaques that read: “To see things in the seed, that is genius,” a quote from the Chinese philosopher Laozi (Lao Tzu), the founder of philosophical Taoism. 

Despite her personal recognition, Snider thanked other influential figures and in the Project Graduation story.

“It took a collaboration of people who cared enough to bring their influence,” she said. “Like Chief Sharp and (former) Superintendent Vicki Balentine. It was a team of people who said ‘yes’ to commit their resources to this and help the community… It’s a lot of work, and if it weren’t for the hundreds of volunteers in this community, it wouldn’t be going on today.”

The 2020 cup had a fundraising goal of $35,000, which tournament chair Jim Miller said he fully expected to fulfill. 

Three high school teams participated in the 18-hole scramble, vying for the Oro Valley Cup title. Ironwood Ridge won this year’s contest, beating out CDO and Amphitheater High School.

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