There is an index for how hot peppers are - call it a radar gun for how likely you are to cry from just being in the same room with them.

It's official name is the Scoville scale and it charts everything from table pepper to something called a ghost pepper.

My personal tastes top out somewhere at Tabasco; however, I put my fear of sweating profusely in front of people aside Sunday, for the good of North Schuylkill's junior high softball program.

The school's softball boosters invited me to be a guest judge at their third annual Wing Fest at the Fountain Springs Country Inn, with the goal of raising enough money to reinstitute the junior high program after it was suspended for a year because of budgetary constraints.

Closing programs is, unfortunately, a scene repeated at many school districts in these threadbare economic conditions.

Close to home, Mount Carmel Area jettisoned both the volleyball and softball programs to cut costs, despite the protests and offers for funding from parents and booster organizations.

Not too far away, Shenandoah Valley, facing a $2.6 million budget deficit, proposed limiting all regular-season athletic events to travel within a 50-mile radius and implementing a pay-to-play program for students.

At Shamokin Area, the swim team is pro-actively trying to convince the school board that any proposed cuts involving the pool at the high school are foolish and unnecessary by offering to raise a significant portion of the estimated $45,000 needed to operate and maintain the pool.

The Indians' swimming program has already planned one fundraiser culminating in an Olympic medalist coming to the school on Aug. 26.

The efforts at North Schuylkill and Shamokin show an increased effort of those who agree with the general premise that athletics help young people.

Unlike hot peppers, there is no immediate scale to judge the effectiveness of money spent on extracurricular activities. Sometimes the lessons learned on an athletic field, or auditorium stage for those actors and artists out there, can't be measured until years after the money has been spent.

Among the panel of judges Sunday was North Schuylkill Superintendent Andrew Smarkanic, who agreed that the initiative taken by the softball boosters showed the value of the junior high team for the program and the players.

It's something we may see at more and

more schools as the decisions need to be made between academics and activities and funds are distributed accordingly.

For those boosters out there with enough time and energy to see a fundraiser through, use Wing Fest as a template.

There are two reasons North Schuylkill's fundraiser is as successful as it is.

First, it has a tireless champion and organizer in Trish Lapotsky. Sunday, she was busy serving wings and enticing people to take a chance on door prizes. She treated her guest judges like the celebrities she touted them to be.

The second reason that Wing Fest is the benchmark for booster fundraisers is because it involves the community. Fourteen vendors signed up to compete and supplied wings, and there were 250 tickets sold. It's probably easy and profitable for booster organizations to have the kids sell candy bars, pies or hoagies, but the inclusion of community is a big factor in the success of this event.

So programs on the brink of extinction, take heed. The times are changing and your amount of interest is being judged by belt-tightening school districts.

North Schuylkill is clearly interested in maintaining its junior high softball program - one screaming hot, eye-watering wing at a time.