The Kane County Cougars (Low A; Midwest League) have grown their charitable giving and local programs since the team started putting together its annual Report to The Community in 2015. Because of this continued growth, the Cougars are the winner of a Ballpark Digest Commitment to Charity Award.
In 2018, the Cougars announced their A Million Smiles campaign with a charity fundraising goal set at $1 million. They surpassed that goal between their 23 charity programs.
“We started publishing the annual report in 2015. We watched the excitement from the front office and our sponsors who were all engaged in giving back to the community,” said Cougars owner Dr. Bob Froehlich. “We watched it grow, and we thought there’s something very special about the million-dollar plateau. It’s like the old United Way campaigns with the thermostat and people could watch it fill up. It has been fun for our fans, for us, and it keeps people accountable.”
Froehlich said that in 2019 they expect to be very close to hitting the million-dollar mark again in part due to the addition of two new programs.
“We did a mental health awareness night. We selected four very local communities that focus on mental health and mental illness and we donated the proceeds from that night to those organizations,” Froehlich said. “We also had our first ever deaf awareness night and donated funds for that evening to two local organizations in the community. We thought those were logical extensions to our community programs.”
The two most popular community programs have been the Cougars Summer Reading program and the Kane County Cougars Reading Club, which has raised over $750,000 in the past.
“Those are our core programs. We re-energized the program a couple of years ago and it has grown since then. So many school districts are faced with tough financial conditions and can’t do field trips as much anymore. We’ve gone after this in a really big way and we’ve had close to 450 schools and over 125,000 students participate in the reading club program,” Froehlich said. “To have the program grown has just been a benefit and a testament to so many schools still wanting to be involved and to the teachers for finding ways to make it happen.”
Summer reading was an extension of the reading club program and has seen success as well.
“We didn’t have summer reading five to six years ago. We thought we do this during the school year. We really want to do something in the summer especially when so many libraries have summer programs,” Froehlich said. “Over 90 libraries participate and this past year over 5,500 students met their reading goals. That has become a popular program.”
Perhaps one of the more unique programs has been the team’s partnership with Amazon through the Amazon Smiles program.
“I got a flyer from the high school I graduated from in Pittsburgh that said if you type in our high school name, Amazon will donate one percent of everything you buy to the school foundation,” Froehlich said. “We started researching it and applied. We had to send in the necessary tax paperwork that we’re a legitimate organization. It’s great and we’re expecting it to grow. It seems like you can buy anything on Amazon and it’s an easy way to get our community involved because all you have to do is click on the Kane County Cougars Foundation as your favorite foundation on Amazon. It sends one percent of every purchase to our foundation.”
The Cougars have also partnered with Tangled Root Brewing Company to create the 108 Double Stitch Ale, with $1 from every purchase going to the Kane County Cougars Foundation. The Cougars continue to find new ways to give back and Froehlich said it’s a trend that will continue into the future.
“When you have an organization that is the name of a real community that has real people, you better honor them giving you the right to use that name and give back to the community in every way possible,” Froehlich said. “Every time we have a new event or a new sponsorship, we think of how we can use the foundation to give back. We want to focus on giving back to everyone in our community and not just one cause. I think what we’ve gotten back from it is the strongest relationships we’ve ever had in the community. The community knows what the Kane County Cougars are all about and it’s more than just baseball.”
Best Ballpark Improvement (Under $1M): Calfee Park Party Deck
MLB Broadcaster of the Year: Marty Brennaman
Best New Logo/Branding: Fayetteville Woodpeckers
Best New Food Item: Crabzilla, Pensacola Blue Wahoos
Best New Concessions Experience: Pensacola Blue Wahoos
MiLB Broadcaster of the Year: Jesse Goldberg-Strassler
Promotion of the Year: Funko Fridays
Best Ballpark Improvement (Over $1M): City of Baseball Museum
Ballpark of the Year: Las Vegas Ballpark
Team of the Year: Las Vegas Aviators
Best Ballpark Renovation: American Family Fields of Phoenix