EDMONTON - One lucky Edmontonian scored a touchdown of his own Thursday but the real winners are the province's young football stars.
Connor Croken, 20, from Edmonton, walked away from Commonwealth Stadium yesterday with more than just memories -- as he claimed the held-over 50/50 jackpot of $348,534.
On the field, the Edmonton Eskimos were embroiled in a heated battle with their provincial rivals, the Calgary Stampeders. But in the stands, eyes were keenly fixed on the rising 50/50 totals, which included $71,732 in unclaimed winnings carried over from the July 11 game.
Croken's winnings are the largest in team history. The previous largest single-game 50/50 jackpot was $127,875 on Aug. 24, 2013 when the Edmonton Eskimos hosted the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
In total, 10 winners walked away with a grand total of $678,353 last season.
Additional proceeds raised through the draw will be given to the Edmonton Huskies, Edmonton Wildcats, University of Alberta Golden Bears, Football Alberta and the Eskimo Alumni Association.
For the Edmonton Huskies -- who along with the Wildcats provide over 30 players to help hand out 50/50 tickets at every Eskimos games -- the winnings are vital the long-term existence of the team.
"Without 50/50, we wouldn't have junior football at all -- it really keeps both clubs going, " said Huskies general manager Bob Bula, adding that each team operates at a cost of around $250,000.
The Huskies use 50/50 funds to help pay for player scholarships, travel and equipment costs and helping to maintain their clubhouse, Huskie House, 9100 Walterdale Hill NW.
Just two years ago, the 50/50 program was run entirely by the two Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL) teams. Last year, the Eskimos took over the program and have since automated ticket sales to be sold wirelessly throughout Commonwealth Stadium.
The 50/50 winnings are pooled throughout the year and at season's end are divvied out to the various football programs. Bula says the Huskies average about $160,000 in 50/50 winnings. However, last year saw a significant drop-off in earnings, something Bula attributes to low fan turnout.
"It really cut into everything," said Bula. "We budget that you're going to get that $160,000 to $170,000 and when you only get half of that you know you're in a lot of trouble."
It was a similar case for Football Alberta who, two years ago, claimed $50,000 in 50/50 winnings only to have that number drop significantly to $15,000 last year.
Much like the two junior football teams, Football Alberta relies heavily on 50/50 earnings to help run numerous programs.
"It's spread out to a lot of different programs, and we can run different programs and do a little more or a little less based on the extra 50/50 money," said Football Alberta executive director, Brian Fryer, whose son purchased a 50/50 ticket at last night's game and was just one number away from winning. "If it was a 649 ticket we would have been laughing because out of six numbers we had five of them, but that's the way it goes."