The annual Spaghetti Dinner & Dessert Auction has, in only seven years, become a beloved tradition in Pahrump, serving as both a huge fundraiser for the high school football team and as a major event on the town’s social calendar.
Just how “huge” and “major” it is has to be seen to be believed. Would you believe it if someone told you every seat in the Pahrump Valley High School cafeteria would be taken and someone would pay $60 for a tray of cheesy Chex Mix? (To be fair, it sure looked good, courtesy of the Batongbacal family.)
Would you believe it if someone told you more than $10,000 would be raised in one night for the football program, enough money so players do not have to engage in any other fundraising activities?
Seniors Donnie Miller and Caleb Sproul remember what it was like when they walked into their first spaghetti dinner and auction.
“I was kind of just a nervous freshman,” Miller said. “I didn’t know that many people.”
Did Sproul have any idea what to expect?
“No,” he admitted. “I was in shock. This community is awesome.”
Players aren’t the only ones who don’t quite know what to expect. Cheerleaders serve the food as the masses line up and move along the buffet line, and the thought of all those people looking for pasta and sauce can be a little unnerving.
“I was very excited to come, but no, I had no idea,” freshman cheerleader Jada Boley said just before the dinner was served. “They come with their noodles, and I give them the sauce.”
Classmate Kelsi Jackson, who said she was ready to serve “normal” pasta (as opposed to the gluten-free option), did not get much of a briefing, either.
“The past couple of days I learned more about it, but before I didn’t know anything about it,” said Jackson, who has been cheerleading for nine years. “It’s been a great experience.”
Next to them was veteran pasts server Sidney Rocheleau, a junior who had positive memories of past spaghetti dinners.
“I remember last year that everyone was super polite, and they all had really good manners,” Rocheleau said, before clarifying that. “The adults did.”
Rocheleau was happy to be serving specialty pasta, figuring it was less work.
“I’m going to serve gluten-free pasta to all of the gluten-free people,” said Rocheleau, who said she served regular pasta last year. “That should be easier than having one person after another after another.”
It takes time for 400 people to go through a buffet line, but things moved along very smoothly this year. Organizers set up a double-line, so people could form two lines and head either left or right at the tables to get their dinner.
Just to make sure the concept wasn’t too confusing for the attendees, Charlotte Uyeno marked the floor with blue arrows for those light-headed by hunger to follow, and during the explanation of the process Kristin Swan looked like she was on a runway guiding a plane into the terminal, showing everyone how traffic would flow.
“She was down there on her hands and knees putting the arrows down, and then you had Kristin directing traffic like a flight attendant,” said Holly Clayton, who saw the results of their efforts.
“It was flawless,” she said. “It was perfect.”
“We get better and better at it every year,” football coach Joe Clayton said. “Tonight they said the line for dinner for 400 people didn’t even last 45 minutes to an hour. It was incredible. It was well organized.”
Chances are, Clayton would have said something like that regardless, considering how much work Holly Clayton puts into this dinner each year along with a growing army of assistants. But he spoke truth. The dinner portion of the evening really did go that well, leaving people ready for the dessert auction.
Display impresses baking pro
Before taking a seat, most guests took a walk along the display table where the desserts were set up after being checked in by Benita Sutton, who has done that job at the dessert auction for years. It was an impressive collection of cakes, cupcakes, pies, cookies and other dessert items.
One of those impressed by the display was Jessica DeJarnett, a trained pastry chef and relative newcomer to Pahrump. A resident for about a year, DeJarnett opened Cakes, Cookies & Creations, a home-based bakery, eight months ago, and was eager to join in on the fun when Swan told her about the dessert auction.
“She approached me back in May and asked if I would be willing to donate, and I was like. ‘Of course!’ ” she said.
But DeJarnett took it a step further.
“What I’m doing tonight for all of the guests that are here is they are going to be getting 15 percent off with me because they came and donated to the Trojans,” she said.
It’s DeJarnett’s way of giving back, as she said her business has been doing well.
“I was really surprised with a small town how fast it grew,” said DeJarnett, who said the one dessert she would make to impress someone was her bourbon pecan trail cake.
But she also was very impressed with the fruit tart she won at her first dessert auction.
Auction in capable hands
Once again, Ski Censke handled the dessert auction, providing a professional sound to the proceedings, joined by Clark County Public Auctioneer Ron Gipson. The two kept things moving at a brisk pace despite the large number of desserts to be auctioned.
“Ski and Ron Gipson are just amazing,” Holly Clayton said. “They’re so dynamic, and they love it. When Ski gets up there and gives the kids a pep talk, he sounds like a coach.”
He also gave the bidders pep talks, urging them to dig deeper to win a great cake and help out a very hard-working football team coming off of a 7-4 season and a Sunset League title. “It’s only money,” Censke said more than once.
“I always wish we could have done better, but I think it was right where it needed to be,” Censke said after the auction. “Make sure you pass on to those guys that they did a great job. Couldn’t ask for more.”
“Those guys” were football players. While some of them displayed the auction items and delivered them to the winning bidders, others were stationed around the cafeteria, enthusiastically pointing out new bids to help Censke and Gipson keep things going. The players got into their task, with several vocalizing in unison whenever somebody motioned to bid.
Joe Clayton thought the marriage of persistent auctioneer with eager bidders was perfect for the occasion.
“Ski being a professional and knowing how to get them to bid more, and some of the parents who have been part of the program for a few years … You can count on these people to help,” the seventh-year coach said.
They all know hundreds of people will show up. They all know thousands of dollars will be raised. They all know some of the cakes will look fantastic. And yet, everyone connected with Pahrump Valley High School football seems overwhelmed by the public show of support each year.
“This year was definitely a big turnout,” Sproul said before being drafted into cleanup duty. “I’ve seen the most people this year.”
“I think that we had a lot more people than last year,” Holly Clayton agreed.
“There’s definitely a lot more people, and there’s always more cakes,” Miller said. “To see all the people get happy to see all of the cakes is a great experience. There are some high-dollar cakes out there. I’d pay some good money for them.”
And all of that good money goes for a good purpose. Not only do Pahrump Valley football players get equipment that school budgets simply cannot provide, but it gives parents, friends and neighbors a chance to show their support for the efforts they make. The dinner and auction makes them feel as if they are a part of it all, which they are.
“We should do our best work for them,” Sproul said of those who came to the event. “I want to perform for them.”
As time-consuming as planning the dinner and auction is — Joe Clayton was handing bags of canned spaghetti sauce to assistant coaches two days before the event and answering dinner-related questions over the phone — once it’s over, that’s it for fundraising. Clayton is proud of not having to go the school board asking for money or send his players knocking on doors selling.
“You can’t run a football program without the financial support,” he said. “And in one evening to fund your entire football program is pretty awesome. Unheard of, actually.”