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High hopes for Hayward heart fundraiser

Hayward Primary School physical education teacher Dave Dixon is known for aiming high.

"They're aware that I like to set high goals and get after stuff," the former high school football coach said of the Hayward community on Thursday.

His goal for the school system's participation in the American Heart Association's Jump Rope for Heart fundraiser seems downright audacious. He wants the Hayward schools to be the first in the 35-year history of the event to raise $100,000.

The average amount raised by schools is $2,000, according to the American Heart Association.

"I figured if we can break the bubble up here in Hayward and show people what can be done in a small town ... maybe some other groups will break that bubble and keep it going and make it bigger, too," Dixon said.

Dixon spoke during his lunch break on Jump Rope for Heart day.

It was a big deal. Students in both the primary (grades K-2) and intermediate (grades 3-5) schools were jumping rope. In the middle school, the kids played a version of dodgeball that required jumping rope to get back in the game.

The high school choir sang the national anthem to kick off the event. Hayward Hurricane athletes, city police and firefighters and the Sawyer County Sheriff's Office participated.

Minong-based Jack Link's sent Sasquatch -- its advertising spokescreature -- to jump rope and play dodgeball.

The goal Dixon set would more than double last year's total of $47,900 -- and that was the fifth-highest amount in the nation. It's not coming from a community with deep pockets. Hayward, with a population of 2,313, had a median household income of $29,360 in 2011, according to the website city-data.com. The statewide median income was $50,395.

Fifty-seven percent of the 373 students in Hayward Primary School are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

"There's not much of a middle class at all," Dixon said. "It's a tough area."

But the response is typical of Hayward, Superintendent Craig Olson said.

"Every month on the (School Board) agenda we have three or four items -- anonymous donations," Olson said.

For example, someone might donate $500 to provide coats for needy children.

To bolster the amount raised this time, Dixon enlisted corporate donors. Jack Link's, Essentia Health and the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Board all have pitched in. Lac Courtes Oreilles Ojibwe School also is also participating this year, adding its donations to the Hayward total.

But the bulk of the fundraising still rests on schoolchildren approaching neighbors, family friends and church members for small donations that add up.

"I'd say last year 90 percent of what we raised was little kids asking $5 at a time," Dixon said. "We talk to our kids and tell them: We don't want your mom or dad to take it to work with them and do it. We want you to do it. We want you to find 10 people that you trust and you know and tell them ... that you want to raise $50 to save someone's life."

The $50 figure comes from the heart association, which estimates a life can be saved every time that amount is donated.

The effort is a personal matter for Dixon. Four years ago his mother, who lives in the La Crosse, Wis., area, had triple bypass surgery following a heart attack. Later the same year his 25-year-old daughter, who lives in the Denver area, had laser surgery for a heart condition.

When he was asked that fall to coordinate Hayward's first Jump Rope For Heart, he felt he couldn't say no.

"I keep thinking: Somebody ran a Jump Rope for Heart thing 10 years ago, and some kid raised $50, and, because of that $50, my mom's still alive four years later," Dixon explained.

Dixon is the right person for the job, Olson said.

"He's a rock star," Olson said of Dixon. "Anything he touches, he's going to do it 100 percent. Failure's not an option with him."

It was too soon to tell on Thursday if the kids and adults of Hayward would reach the $100,000 goal. It was certain that they'd raise $50 many times over.

"It's going to be close, nip and tuck a little bit," Dixon said. "I'm confident we're going to be over $80,000."

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