The Lithia Oregon Tech Golf Challenge raised a record of nearly $26,000 for the university's athletics department over the weekend. 

"There were so many people just happy to be out there, happy to be around the athletes," said Justin Parnell, the event's organizer and OIT's head men's basketball coach.

The golf challenge, a four-person team scramble at the Running Y Ranch & Resort on Sunday, featured 30 teams and 120 golfers — a sellout. 

Usually the goal is to reach at least $10,000, and in recent years the tournament has been in the $15,000 to 18,000 range, Parnell said, but this year's total "blew it out of the water."

The economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has made future funding tough to predict, Parnell said. 

"It's just impossible for anybody to predict," Parnell said. "We lost a lot of money not having games last year, or a golf tournament or an auction. We lost money on season tickets. So I think this year is a huge push for us. I mean, we need to get out there and recoup some of these losses." 

But getting to be back around fans in the community was just as important, he said. 

"We have such a strong faithful support here and for about a year and a half, you know, they were pretty much in the dark of anything Oregon Tech athletics, because there wasn't a lot going on," Parnell said.

Oregon Tech athletes from various sports were positioned around the course with special games that golfers could take part in and potentially get a leg up in the tournament, Parnell said. 

On one hole, golfers could pay an OIT soccer player to kick a soccer ball onto the fairway. Wherever the ball landed was where the golfer could take their tee shots. Elsewhere, the basketball team traded made free throws for automatic putts on the green and the volleyball team sold string for putting. 

"Then on hole 18, we had our Oregon tech golfers so you could pay them to play the hole with you. So instead of having four players, you can have six. So it was really neat," Parnell said.

The money raised goes into the Oregon Tech athletics fund which teams can use for travel, facility upgrades, scholarships, all at the discretion of the athletic director. 

"It was just amazing the support that came in, and the excitement of this community and I think that's why I think this is the best small college athletic department in the country," Parnell said. 

— Reporter Rick Childress can be reached at (541) 851-7301 or rchildress@heraldandnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @RickOChildress