Baseball fans, this is the chance to unleash your inner Hap Dumont. The National Baseball Congress World Series is looking for volunteers to help with the 79-year-old tournament.
Dumont founded the tournament in 1935 and it thrived for decades on his brand of promotion and scheduling. Recent declines in attendance and revenue sent organizers — the tournament is owned by the city of Wichita — looking for ways to increase its appeal.
In early June, the NBC announced a format change designed to add drama and decrease expenses for visiting teams. Behind the scenes, a group of volunteers is working to add sizzle and help the teams and the NBC cut expenses.
“There's always been passionate people that had ideas and wanted to do things,” said Josh Schepis, who helped start the volunteer movement with a list of ideas he compiled while umpiring the tournament last summer. “This is an avenue for all those people with ideas, who can roll their sleeves up and make something happen.”
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The group met Monday night at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium — seven volunteers and NBC operations manager Kevin Jenks — to continue planning. The biggest idea is a barbecue contest on Aug. 10, before the championship game. The group is recruiting team ambassadors and restaurants to donate meals for teams. They are looking for youth teams willing to pick up trash in Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in return for tickets. Scouts will evaluate players on Aug. 2 and the volunteers need to find people willing to help that afternoon.
“A lot of us are baseball fans,” volunteer Niki Manbeck said. “We’ve grown up with the NBC. We want to hold events that tell people, ‘Hey, we’re still around.’”
From Schepis’ list and conversations with Jenks and tournament director Casey Walkup sprung a network of volunteers and plans. A lack of time kept this summer’s plans modest. The volunteers want to do more in the future.
The biggest hope is to increase attendance and make the NBC a destination during early August, even for people who don’t know a Stud from a Glacier Pilot.
“We’re trying to make it more of an event,” Jenks said. “If you go to the Big 12 tournament, or the College World Series, there’s an event around the event.”
Schepis borrowed the idea of team ambassadors from the NJCAA men’s basketball tournament in Hutchinson. The ambassadors will act as a tour guide for the team’s stay in Wichita, providing a person with local knowledge as a ready resource for directions, restaurant recommendations or a movie theater on an off day. Volunteers are helping find restaurants to donate 35 meals per team before or after games. On Wednesday, Schepis took pocket schedules to businesses and Manbeck compiled the rules for the cooking competition. For $8, fans can test the meat, vote for a winner and get a ticket to the game.
“It’s a shot in the arm,” Jenks said. “I’ve had people from California to Texas say they want to come in early and help volunteer.”
In May, an audit revealed financial problems that appeared to threaten the tournament’s future. In 2012, it netted $1,100. Jenks wants to get the focus back on baseball this summer.
“The NBC isn’t and wasn’t in as bad of shape as people maybe perceived it to be,” he said. “I’m really energized because I see where this can really go. The volunteers have been a big part of that.”