Hot summer nights, the threat of late day thunderstorms, hot dogs and hamburgers, kids and baseball – what do all these things have in common? Add in some ice cream and a rain delay, and you have all the ingredients for an amazing evening of fun and entertainment for kids who don’t often get a chance to get to the ballpark and enjoy some good old-fashioned fun.
Rotary clubs across the Triangle participate in a district-wide “Take a Kid to a Ballgame” every summer, where Rotarians sign up to take children from the YMCA summer camps to a Durham Bulls game. The Downtown Fuquay-Varina Rotary Club hasn’t participated in the program due to the distance to Durham on a weeknight, but it has been something the club had on its list of things to do “someday.” With the advent of the Coastal Carolina baseball league locating a college-level team in Holly Springs, however, the option to do something a little closer to home became a much more viable one.
Club member and past president Mark Shear began exploring the option of creating a SW Wake “Take a Kid to a Ballgame”-inspired event right here in the southern end of the county. With the assistance of Ryan in the Salamanders front office, Mark was able to create an event that was so successful that the club – and the kids – are already looking forward to next summer!
The Salamanders introduced a great special this year called the “All You Can Eat” (AYCE) ticket. For $14/person, one can get admission to the game AND as many hotdogs, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, popcorn, and soda/tea as you can eat. It’s a great new feature that made events like the one Mark was trying to organize MUCH easier and less expensive to pull together. It made the “Take a Kid to a Ballgame” idea more accessible to more people, and the close proximity of Ting Park (formerly known as the North Main Athletic Complex) make it much more attractive to the Rotarians and other business professionals that wanted to participate.
Pine Acres Community Center on McLean Street near Lincoln Heights Elementary School launched a Summer Lunch program at Pine Acres this year to help feed children who were on summer break from school and unable to access their regular free and reduced lunch options. The Downtown Fuquay-Varina Rotary Club had been assisting and serving in that lunch program all summer, and members felt that the kids in that program were the perfect match for an event like “Take a Kid to a Ballgame.” Summer Lunch program coordinator Bryan Haynes, also a Downtown Rotary club member, agreed and identified 25 kids from the program for the event. He also arranged for transportation through the Bazzel Creek Baptist Church for most of them. The remainder of the kids were driven to the event by volunteers. The Rotary club recruited 20 Rotarians and friends, and the two groups met at Ting Park on Thursday, August 27 at 6:00pm for the first annual “SW Wake Take a Kid to a Ballgame” event!
The event itself was a wonderful combination of play, music, laughter, attention to America’s favorite pastime, and food. Large amounts of popcorn and ice cream were consumed, in addition to a healthy complement of hamburgers and hotdogs. The children ranged in age from five to 14, and their interest in the actual game was sporadic and hindered by the intermittent rain delays throughout the evening. But regardless of the rain and the pace of the baseball game, the kids were a delight and very obviously enjoyed every minute of the event. They were great sports when the adults decided there needed to be a group photo, which took 10 or 15 minutes to organize, and they invented a great game of “toss the soda bottle into the cup holder”– an entertaining and creative version of a bean bag toss game.
Some of the kids received Salamanders t-shirts and very proudly displayed them during the game. The colorful shirts made for great photos as the kids danced and cheered on the baseball players as the game worked its way into a tie. Great friendships were created between kids and sponsors that continued during the remaining weeks of the Summer Lunch program, as Rotarians reconnected with the kids they had spent the event with. Some of those relationships are working into mentorships that will continue into the school year at Lincoln Heights Elementary, where Rotarians can help with reading and other subjects that the kids are struggling with.
The “Take a Kid to a Ballgame” event was an amazing evening that brought adults and children together from different walks of life to enjoy the great American game of baseball, some burgers and dogs, and a lot of ice cream! The Downtown Fuquay-Varina Rotary Club is already making plans to organize another event just like it next summer at Ting Park. And regardless of who is playing, what the food choices are, and whether or not ice cream is involved, the combination of kids who are craving a night of wholesome fun, and adults who love sharing time with young people who need positive role models, is one that will keep this event on the club’s annual “to-do” list. For more information about this event and plans for next year, contact the Downtown Fuquay-Varina Rotary Club’s “Take a Kid to a Ballgame” project chair, Mark Shear at firstname.lastname@example.org.