BRADENTON -- Want to assist youngsters who may serve in our nation's military one day?
More than 500 cadets from Manatee County's six high school Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps programs attend the annual Military Ball, which has been held at least the past 20 years at Bradenton Auditorium.
Because of that facility's current Da Vinci Exhibition, the ball had to be relocated. It will be held at Sarasota's Hyatt Regency, certainly a nice venue.
Thing is, tickets will cost $45 -- $20 more than before.
"Definitely more expensive," said Lt. Col. (ret.) John Heatheringon, who heads up Southeast High School's JROTC program. "Ninety bucks is a lot for these kids if they want to take a
date. Let's face it, our kids come from homes that don't have that kind of money."
Ditto for Bayshore's JROTC.
"They want to go, but that's steep for kids coming from blue collar families," said 1st Sgt. (ret.) Jorge Anaya. "Last year we sold 90 tickets. So far we've sold 10."
Lt. Col. (ret.) Philip Mugford is aware of the situation facing some cadets. He's the senior instructor for Manatee's JROTC, which is this year's host for the Military Ball.
"The goal is to ensure the opportunity is available for all the cadets who would like to attend," Mugford said. "It's an impressive event and it appeals to the pride cadets have in the JROTC program. Our goal was to reduce the ticket price as much as possible, but I know some of the kids are struggling."
He had tried the Bradenton Area Convention Center for the ball, but its dates didn't work.
He also sized up the Manatee High School gym for the event, but it won't safely accommodate a projected crowd of almost 600 people.
The Hyatt fit the JROTC's needs, albeit at a higher cost.
"Even if everyone pays I'm still going to be short," Mugford said. "We don't have the funds to defray the cost."
There will be a fundraiser barbecue from 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Sam's, 5300 30th St. E., Bradenton to help cadets cover the cost of ball tickets.
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix.