Summer is coming soon and with it the umpire's cry: "Play ball." For Whatcom Community College, it's also a unique opportunity to thank its host families by sponsoring a Bellingham Bells game and providing everyone with free tickets.
It's a lot of fun and spreads the word to potential hosts, says Lynnette Berry, International Housing Manager at the college in Bellingham, Washington, a town of 89,000 near the Canadian border.
The Bells are a summer collegiate team in the West Coast League and play a 57-game season against squads in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia.
For $2,750 to sponsor a game, the homestay program receives:
- 400 tickets for the game to share with hosts, prospective hosts and staff
- Selection of someone to throw out the first pitch. One year, Whatcom chose a host who had been with the program for 20 years and whose dream was always to deliver the first pitch at a game
- Selection of a national anthem singer. One host played the Star Spangled Banner on his saxophone
- A chance for an international student to dress up as the college's orca mascot to hang out with the team mascot. (A student tried to throw out the first pitch one year but it turns out it's very hard to throw a pitch with a whale flipper)
- During the game, the announcer reads three ads about the Whatcom hosting program and the contact info is displayed on the stadium's video screen
In addition, the team provides Whatcom with two season tickets, allowing the program to thank hosts throughout the season from June to August.
"I like to spend our advertising money where I know it is supporting the community directly," says Berry. She notes that an ad in the local newspaper seeking new families would cost a similar amount - minus the fun for students and hosts.
"Over the past 10 years our baseball team has really brought our community together, growing in popularity each year. Many families attend and local small businesses support the team."
In addition, the homestay program sets up a booth at the game to give information to prospective families and chat with existing hosts. "They tell us what's happening with their students and it gets a lot of problems solved in one night," Berry says.
"We have so many great hosts that I don't need to do a lot of recruiting/marketing these days. A good program tends to sell itself and we get many hosts through word of mouth."
At Whatcom, hosts, faculty and staff are already looking forward to the upcoming ball season.