St. Mary’s School in Sherman took invited parents, supporters and members of the public for a night in the tropics Saturday when it held its annual casino night fundraiser. The event, now in its 18th year, serves as the largest fundraiser for the Catholic school.


With this year’s event, which featured a tropical Copacabana theme, organizers hoped to raise $80,000 toward tuition assistance and other services for the school’s 160 students, who range from Pre-K to eighth grade. Attendees were dressed for the occasion with tropical-themed shirts, fruit hats and flowery dresses.


“This allows us to provide a Christian education with academic excellence at an affordable tuition rate, along with providing tuition assistance and scholarships,” Melissa Sandoval, casino night committee chairperson, said.


In previous years, the theme for the event has ranged from the Kentucky Derby to the 1980s. For this year’s event, Sandoval said organizers wanted to try an exotic theme that involved a lot of color before settling on the Copacabana.


“With all our themes, we try to find something fun for everyone,” she said.


Among the fundraising activities at Saturday’s event were multiple silent and live auctions, casino games and raffles, among other games and activities, Sandoval said.


Stephanie Sylvester was one of the more than 100 parents who volunteered their time to make the event possible. Parents for the family of each student pledged to volunteer at least five hours of their time to make the event possible.


Sylvester said she has a fifth grade son who has been enrolled at the school since he was in Pre-K. When her youngest daughter is old enough to attend school, she will also go to St. Mary’s, Sylvester said.


“Basically, when we came back to town, I wanted to find a school with a loving environment that exceeds academic expectations,” she said. “It is a small school, but it is a great way to build a community.”


Sylvester noted that some of the items that were up for auction were made by the students of the school themselves. Each class made or decorated an item that was up on the auction block for parents and supporters to purchase. Among these items were a guitar painted and decorated by students and a piece of stained glass made by another class.


Since he started work with St. Mary’s, Principal Phillip Scheibmeir has seen half of the casino night fundraisers the school has put on. With the long tenure of the event, he said the success of fundraiser and the support of the community are clear.


“I think everyone recognizes the good cause,” he said. “We’ve had our school parents working six months ahead to get involved and prepare for this.”


With the funds raised, Scheibmeir said the school will be able to assist some of the less fortunate students of the school with their tuition. While he said some see St. Mary’s as a school for the rich, he also noted that about one-third of the students at the school would be eligible for free or reduced lunch.


Beyond parents, Scheibmeir said many of those in attendance were past alumni who use the annual event as a reunion and a way to pay it forward to future generations.


“I think they want to make an impact on the lives of these students in the same way it was made in their lives,” he said.