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HSSR All-State Banquets “On Hold” But “Not Cancelled” As Awards Company Unable To Fill Order Due To Pandemic Related Issues At This Time

HSSR All-State Banquets “On Hold”  But “Not Cancelled” As Awards Company Unable To Fill Order Due To Pandemic Related Issues At This Time  


Moncks Corner—I hardly know where to begin as I gather my thoughts about the status of the 2020-21 HSSR all-state banquets we were in the midst of planning for at the Sumter Civic Center over a two- day period on July 24-25.

(The HSSR is considering the Sumter Civic Center for all-state banquets because it has twice the capacity of Seawell’s, where we have conducting banquets going back 21 years ago when their beautiful facility first opened, featuring Lou Holtz as the keynote football banquet speaker. We managed to pack in 1,200 people inside the banquet room for the first major event at Seawell’s in their brand-new facility. We had to turn away at least 200 rabid Gamecock fans, who just showed up, hoping to hear what Coach Holtz had to say. The Sumter Civic Center, which can hold 2,500 people for concerts, will allow for better social distancing between tables.)  

   In early May, I began calling Don Len Inc., located at 624-626 Maple Street in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, and all I received was a message on their answering machine. This American owned company has been making custom awards for HSSR banquets going back nearly 30 years! Truth be known, the HSSR has spent over $750,000 purchasing awards, at a volume discount, from the Don Len, Inc awards company for the majority of the 102 all-state banquets the HSSR has sponsored since 1987.

This writer had been friends with the founder of the company, Don Len, Sr. before he passed away in his mid-80’s three years ago. In fact, for a number of years “Mr. Don” would drive the awards down to Seawells, from Pennsylvania, the day before the banquet(s), and it was amazing to see how he packed a large cargo van to hold “over 400 awards” for our well-attended all-state football banquets. “Mr. Don” told me on several occasions that the HSSR was a “top three” customer of his company, and how much he appreciated our business.

Within a year of his death, sadly, Mr. Don’s eldest son “Lenny” passed away (age 64) from cancer and he had been the day-the-day CEO of Don Len Inc and he was great to work with also. Things started to get harder to manage once three grandsons inherited the company, and they seemed to not always agree on matters relating to how the company should be run. They also have had to deal with a Pandemic that hurt their business significantly because they, and their dealers, had lost a lot of business with high school sports teams all across the United States shutting down because of the Pandemic.        

Over a two- week period in May, I kept leaving messages to the answering machine at Don Len, Inc and no one was calling me back. I should have suspected that the company had encountered major issues with the Pandemic because when I called to have a name plate corrected for a football player at Timberland High back in March, they did take my call, but the HSSR never received the corrected name plate back.

So, “Jay” from Don Len, Inc finally called me back on a private unlisted phone number on Monday June, 14 and this is the summary of his comments to the HSSR pretty much word-for-word: “I have spoken with the owners and production manager and they are both telling me the same thing - there is no way we can get this done at this time,” he said. “Even if you were to provide the labor to do the job, we really don't have the space, or time to train.  I am really sorry about this and the only alternative I could offer would be the overseas made resins.

Jay went on to say, “Sorry, Billy, the only thing we would be able to do is order the resins that you would be able to get locally. We really apologize, we just do not have the space, manpower, or time at the moment.  It's been a crazy few year to say the least.  Hopefully, by this time next year we will be running full steam ahead.”

The other problem not discussed on the phone call with Jay was the revised “wholesale price sheet” on volume purchases he had e-mailed the HSSR a few days before our one and only live talk over the phone. Awards that use to cost the HSSR between $15 to $20 each, based on a volume discount buying of 100 or more, were now priced between $45 and $60 each! (Ouch, Ouch! and OUCH!!)

Sharing another problem with our readership the HSSR has over $10,000 worth of unclaimed Don Len, Inc. awards, from prior HSSR all-state banquets, spanning 12 or so varsity sports, sitting on tall open air metal stands in my garage, at my residence/home office in beautiful Moncks Corner!

The problem is that the HSSR does not have enough awards in house to fill the needs of any one sport that we truly have a strong interest in honoring at a banquet. For example, we have 67 all-state softball awards on hand, but elsewhere in this June publication, who will see our just released SCHSL & SCISA all-state softball teams list with well over 275 hard- working young ladies listed as all-state honorees in softball from the 2021 season.

 Do you really want to mix cheaper looking resins in with your 67 traditional all-state awards that some players already have earned from the past two or three years?! Furthermore, how would you determine which girls receive the nicer looking Don Len, Inc awards versus who would get a cheaper looking “resin” award probably made in China?! 

In football, we have 84 “five pounds” all-state football awards available in storage right now but we need 325 of these awards based on our all-state football teams published elsewhere in this very issue, from both the SCHSL& SCISA teams. The 220 football all-state rewards we placed on our order three weeks ago, will now cost triple what the HSSR aid for them at our last football banquet in February, 2020, just before the Pandemic shut down all the schools in March.

So, you have an issue with two major challenges. One; the Don Len, Inc. company does not currently have the man power, nor time, to produce and fulfill the HSSR banquet order. Number two: How in the world would you break-even, and pay for such banquet(s) if the awards you prefer have now tripled in price, if and when the company resumes making them in bulk quantity? 

For years the HSSR has never charged an honoree (player or coach) to attend a catered banquet, and as long as I own the HSSR we never will. We have charged a guest ticket price for parents and friends of the honorees with the goal of breaking “dead even” on banquet expenses through ticket sales. If you would like to read a full disclosure on the challenges the HSSR has had paying for all-state banquets, over the past 35 years, please click on, the Banquet News icon on the home page of our web site at and you will no doubt get full disclosure. 

Here is one idea that could help out and really does make sense: I called Lee Sartor at Erskine College (who coached Zion Williamson in high school and they remain close friends) about a week ago, after I sensed the HSSR all-state banquets were having major hurdles to get over. I asked Coach Sartor if he would mind asking his blessed former player, who just happens to be a multi-millionaire, if he could not only help sponsor the “HSSR-Zion Williamson 2020-21 All-State Basketball Banquet” but could Zion also serve as the keynote speaker! We would limit each honoree strictly to a limit of two guests, and we would give Don Len Inc an offer they could not refuse with the Big Z now involved!

To my surprise Coach Sartor said, “Not a bad idea, and I have been talking to Zion about how he needs to do more sponsorship like about what you are talking about in this conversation.  

(I am still waiting a return phone call from Coach Sartor on our deadline but keep hitting if Zion does agree to get involved.) Go “Z” man!

On the football side of all-state banquets, I recently visited with one of my favorite employees that worked with me at a company I managed in Florence between 1978-1985 before I left to invest my life savings into starting the HSSR in 1986. His name is Shelton Leaphart and he lives in Lake View, S C. His granddaughter just happens to be married to NFL all-pro linebacker Darius Leonard who plays with the Colts and “Maniac” Leonard attended several HSSR all-state banquets as an all-state Defensive Player of the Year from Lake View High just six or seven years ago.

Leonard’s high school coach is Darryl King and Coach King will tell you that I went out-of-my-mind promoting Darius as a big- time football college prospect between Leonard’s junior and senior year at Lake View. I was also one of the people (along with Ray Rogers, the outstanding Superintendent in Dillon who talked to Buddy Pugh from S.C. State about hanging around a little longer at a Lake View High game one time so he could watch Lonard in action. Leonard went on to S.C. State and was drafted as the 34th pick of the NFL draft, and he is an All-Pro with a very bright future in the NFL.

So, leaving the Lake View state title softball game recently, I went to visit my dear friend Shelton, who lives one mile from the high school. Before I left Shelton, I asked him if he thought Darius would be generous enough to help sponsor the “HSSR-Darius Leonard 2020 All-State Football Banquet” that we were hoping to have on Saturday July, 24th in Sumter.

“I do not think Darius would have a problem supporting the football banquet since he attended the HSSR banquets when he was in high school, and my granddaughter also received some all-state awards in softball when she played,” said Mr. Leaphart. ” Just tell me how much money is involved so I can talk to Darius.”

Well, today is Father’s Day June, 20thth and the HSSR is going to press at Herald Publishing in Dillon on June, 20th. Lake View is 13 miles away and I hope to get by to see Shelton and Darius this week because Darius and his wife have just had their second child, and the couple are spending time in Lake View before Darius leaves for the NFL in a few weeks.

I have no idea what Zion and Darius will do to help out the HSSR, and the young people from across our state who truly deserve to be recognized at all-state awards banquets for their hard work. I have been praying to almighty God for some answers to this challenging situation brought on in part due to the Pandemic!

Keep hitting for any breaking news about the pending all-state banquets! Where there is a “Will” let’s work together to find “A WAY”.

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