By Mike Griffith
Californian Staff Writer
The Bakersfield Californian
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – Day after day, month after a month, it’s all about wins, losses, power plays and on-ice performance.
But Feb. 20 at the Crystal Palace, hockey was put on the far back burner by the Bakersfield Condors and a few hundred fans. This night was about bad Karaoke, having players wait on tables, bad dancing and good times for a good cause during the annual Tip-A-Condor dinner.
While the Condors have yet to reach the pinnacle of some other teams when its comes to wins and losses, its doubtful there’s another organization — or community — in minor pro sports that gives as much as Bakersfield.
“We can do a lot of stuff to strive for greatness on the ice but we can’t control injuries, how players perform, and what other teams might throw at you,” Condors President Matt Riley said. “We can control our community involvement and we have to be on top of our game on those things. We go to schools and try to be involved in as many nonprofits as possible.”
Fans coughed up around $16,500 at the dinner, all of that going to the Kern County Shrine Club. On Feb. 17 fans doled out $23,250 during a jersey raffle with all of that going to the Petroleum Shrine Club.
That’s a pretty good chunk of change in the span of just four days to help the children at Shriner’s hospitals.
The annual Teddy Bear toss is the benchmark of successful events — as well as a great visual — where literally thousands of stuffed animals sail onto the ice in the name of charity. In the past two seasons alone, more than 13,000 bears have hit the Rabobank Arena ice.
“I think we’ve done as good a job being in the community as any professional sports team out there anywhere,” Riley said. “We can provide the mechanism but it has to be the fans that respond. The Tip-A-Condor and Teddy Bear Toss are events that are done in other cities but our fans respond better.”
Those fans have been responding since the old Bakersfield Fog became the Condors and played their first game in Rabobank Arena (then dubbed Centennial Garden) in 1998.
Since that time hundreds of different Condors have visited hundreds of classrooms, the mascot Colonel Claw’d has made untold appearances at schools and elsewhere and more than $1.5 million in money, goods and services have been donated to the community.
Riley readily admits that community involvement is self serving to a point, after all goodwill begets goodwill.
“When we first started we had a new arena, a new name and a relatively new sport to the area so we had a lot of grassroots marketing. We want to be a part of the community and feel it is important but from a self-serving standpoint that helps us draw (fans).”
And Riley, while noting the on-ice product has to be good, says minor sports is far more than just about sports.
“The community outreach is just an extension of our primary focus which is family entertainment,” he said. “Five or 10 years from now it’s not the win or loss on Saturday night that people will remember, it’s the good times they had with their family or kid, the Teddy Bear Toss, the one-on-one with a player at a school or an autograph and picture with a player after a game. That’s what sticks.”