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Climbing the top rope for dollars

Agriculture teacher Chris Sheehan steps in to Red Wing High School's greenhouse, which officials say is in need of repair. School officials are hoping a professional wrestling match will help pay for the expenses. -- photo by Mike Longaecker/Republican Eagle1 / 2
Red Wing High School junior Bryanna Wittman scoops out recently raised tilapia at the school's aquaculture facility. Agriculture teacher Chris Sheehan (left) said the school's facility is the only one of its kind in Minnesota that is registered through the Department of Natural Resources to raise fish.2 / 2

What happens when school funding runs out for special projects?

You call on the Joey Envy, Black Stallion and Scotty "Too Hot" Taylor.

The American Wrestling Federation characters will grapple Dec. 5 in a fund-raising event for Red Wing High School's agriculture program. Red Wing High School Principal Beth Borgen helped organize the event after she was approached by Tony Denucci, a wrestler and AWF frontman.

She said the event could be just the vehicle needed to fund the increasingly popular program.

"The number of students in ag science and FFA is skyrocketing," Borgen said.

A greenhouse, the program's most visible structure, is nearly 15 years old and -- while still functional -- is in serious need of repair, said high school agriculture teacher Chris Sheehan.

Meanwhile, district officials are grappling on their own with a budget that in recent years has seen extensive cuts, from the classroom to a police liaison officer.

And until funding becomes more stable, Red Wing Supt. Stan Slessor expects more events like the wrestling match.

"I guess we'll probably need to go to more and more of those things," he said of so-called "voluntary" fundraisers that don't necessarily lean on organizations or businesses to contribute.

In this case, the money goes toward the greenhouse and other equipment in the high school's aquaculture program.

Sheehan said the upgrades and repairs would come at an opportune time. The department is looking to add new classes next year, which Sheehan said could include a floral design course.

"We want it to be cutting-edge," he said.

The department's aquaculture equipment also is utilized by students in Red Wing FFA, which Sheehan heads up.

"I'm really excited about the direction the students are taking the program," the first-year teacher said.

FFA members have watched attendance in the program mushroom this year. Last year the program drew six students.

Today the number hovers around 70. Meetings have gotten so big, they're now held in the school cafeteria.

FFA officers Aly Schwartau, Bryanna Wittman and Andrew Huot said the program this year scrapped a recruitment approach that tended only to target students with farming backgrounds.

"Quite a few people didn't even know we had an FFA," Schartau said.

Sheehan said some students are surprised to learn FFA incorporates wider themes, including sustainable agriculture practices and natural resource conservation.

And though the program receives a couple thousand annually in district funding, Sheehan said members are hoping the wrestling match - which organizers are hoping to draw 2,000 people - packs in the fans.

"No way could you expect a student organization to pay for remodeling of a school facility,"