The "sweet 16th birthday" is a milestone occasion, often celebrated with a large party. But since the M.O.T. Community Fund's Big Ball Marathon has always been a monumental event, the 16th annual fundraiser will be celebrated with the same spirit that has made the tradition such a hit. The 24-hour tournament to raise money for local charities and local residents kicks off at 6 p.m., Friday night at Silver Lake Park in Middletown.
Kate Rokosz, a 15-year organizing veteran, said that people who have never been should just stop by and check it out.
"You just have to come out one time and experience it," Rokosz explained. "There's this palpable feeling in the air that comes from so many people working together for a common cause. It's an amazing thing."
Wondering what it's like? Rokosz shared 16 fast facts, poignant anecdotes and tidbits of information about this year's Big Ball Marathon, creating a picture of what the fundraiser will be like:
1. The money raised stays in the community. Some of it gets donated to local charities like the Boys and Girls Club and Habitat for Humanity, local schools and even local families. Some of it also goes into the organization's "safety net fund," which helps local families in need of utilities, medical supplies, food and even transportation.
2. This year, M.O.T. Community Fund has committed $20,000 to Habitat for Humanity, which will be distributed to the housing charity over the next several years.
"We've helped them in the past and the money goes to building houses in our area," Rokosz said.
3. This year's event features 48 teams, who will go up against four marathon teams in a softball-like game. Each team is made up of local residents who live or work in the community, like Middletown Robotics, Sully's Irish Pub, MHS Boys Soccer, Delaware Smile Center and Back Creek Grille.
4. Every little bit of money counts in a big way.
"Each year, we get an envelope from at least one child who has worked really hard to raise $5 or $20 and they come up and give it to us, knowing what it is going towards," Rokosz said. "It's so touching to know that a lot of donations like that have helped us get to large amounts like $50,000. It's just such a touching thing."
5. Rokosz said that the event has always done concessions on their own but they are branching out this year with a "fun way to give people a lot of options" while also hopefully reducing the amount of time people have to wait in line for snacks. Their solution? Food trucks and outside vendors. Four food trucks will be parked at Big Ball, serving up refreshments that don't require tables, including Java Puppy, a mobile espresso coffee truck; I Don't Give a Fork, featuring the made-to-order forkless treat creations of a University of Delaware graduate; Mytocha's Style Cooking, which will have walkable options like wings, burgers and tacos; And Dino's Ice Cream Truck, which will keep players and spectators cool with frozen treats.
Page 2 of 3 - Other food vendors include Chick-fil-A, Blue Hen Concessions and Sausage King and Double Dogs.
6. One of this year's teams is also a Big Ball charity recipient. The Middletown High School Marching Band, who received a royal invitation to perform in the London New Year's Day Parade, has been fundraising most of the year. But, the marathon is something that the band has always participated in. When the team signed up this year, Rokosz said that MOTCF was touched that the kids were going to take time out of their own fundraising to help them.
Organizers devised a plan: For a dollar that the band raised for their Big Ball game, organizers would give that money right back to them while also matching donations, dollar for dollar.
"We've been watching how hard they've been working to raise money for their trip to London," Rokosz explained. "So, we just didn't feel right about taking money from them this year. We're so happy to be able to help them like they've helped us and their community."
7. Live music has always been a big part of the marathon and this year more than a half a dozen bands will provide a soundtrack for the event. The amps will be plugged in by 8 p.m., when Fishbowl Project starts playing, followed by 3 Day Weekend at 9:30 p.m. The music starts back up at 9:30 a.m., Saturday morning, with the last band—Something We Promised—playing at 5 p.m.
8. The Big Ball Marathon couldn't happen every year without the dedicated individuals who make up the four official marathon teams: Thundercats, Love U, Scared Hitless and Nick's Knuckles. These 73 people play in 12-hour shifts so that the other 48 fundraising teams have an opponent.
9. Rokosz said that donating money to an individual or a team couldn't be easier. All that's needed is a computer and an internet connection. Visit www.bigball.org and click on "donate to a player/team." That click links out to a page with all the individuals and teams participating. Simply click on the name of the person or team and follow the instructions to make a credit card donation. Donations will also be accepted by check. More information is available on the website.
10. Another new aspect of the marathon this this will be the retail and nonprofit vendors setting up shop. Spectators will have 25 merchants and charitable organizations to peruse, including a psychic, a massage therapist, a life coach, jewelry, cosmetics, accessories, clothing and more.
11. Couldn't get a team together but still want to go? Admission will only cost you a can of food, which Rokosz said will go towards stocking local food pantries.
Page 3 of 3 - 12. There are several teams to watch this year. As usual, the Blonde Bombers will hit the field Friday night with a police escort and put on a show that has to be seen to be believed. And, the Middletown Veterinary Hospital puts Fido's fetch skills to the test by employing a few able-bodied canines in the outfield. Other teams to see include the Middletown High School Marching Band and eZanga, who almost made it through a national contest that would have allowed the company to donate $10,000 to Big Ball. In a confusing end to the contest, they did not win but they still wanted to raise as much money as possible and put together a team to do it.
13. The Home Run Derby will take place Friday night and is open to anyone with $10 in his or her pocket. Each entrant will then get five hits and the chance to take home the enormous trophy that goes to the winner.
14. Big Ball is a kid-friendly affair, with something to do for every age, from pony rides and face painting to jousting, obstacle courses and demonstrations of karate and cheerleading. Rokosz said that the Volunteer Hose Company of Middletown will also be on-site at 2 p.m. for their annual "candy drop," which is a favorite year after year.
15. A fundraising event wouldn't be complete without at least one raffle and one auction. Rokosz said that some of the items donated in the past have included Kindles and other coveted prizes. Stop by, bid on something and then go home and wait by the phone. You do not have to be present when the names are drawn to win.
16. Closing ceremonies will start at 6 p.m., Saturday evening. Raffle and auction winners will be announced as will this year's total money raised.