BATON ROUGE, La. - Baton Rouge has been a gracious host for the 2012 United States Bowling Congress Open Championships, and the event had the chance to make a lasting impact on the local community by helping to raise more than $30,000 for the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank on Friday night.
After a short day of tournament competition, the venue was opened to more than 350 bowlers and guests for the Mayor's Celebrity Bowling Challenge to Strike Out Hunger. Through lane sponsorship and ticket sales, the special event generated enough money to serve more than 150,000 meals locally.
Each of the venue's 48 lanes was available for sponsorship by local businesses for $250, and thanks to a very strong bowling community with support from local proprietors and the USBC association, all 48 lanes were filled at $300 per team. There also were raffles and opportunities to buy additional celebrity strikes for $100.
"We found a way to mesh the USBC event, the city and the bowling community to put on a unique tournament that benefited a great cause," Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden said. "What's most significant is that the food bank has been at almost an historic low, so for all of these folks to come out and help is amazing."
Scott Rogers, host of Baton Rouge's Around Town TV Show, was the celebrity emcee for the evening, while each team was joined by a local celebrity. The list included members of the media, dignitaries and current and former players and coaches from Louisiana State University, including Randall Gay, who recently won a Super Bowl title with the New Orleans Saints. Even LSU head football coach Les Miles made an appearance to hear his 8-year-old daughter Macy Grace sing the national anthem.
"I talked to some people who have bowled in the championships and told me the venue was amazing, and they were right," said Miles, who led the Tigers to a national championship in 2007. "It's also nice to look around and see all of the celebrities and supporters who came out for such a great cause tonight."
Prior to their three games of bowling Friday, guests had the opportunity to mingle with the celebrities and enjoy food brought in by a number of local restaurants. The mood was light and the competition was friendly, and the big winner of the challenge was the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank.
"We've done a lot of traditional fundraising events in the past, so this is by far one of the most unique things we've ever had the opportunity to do," said Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank President and CEO Mike Manning. "Our two biggest goals for tonight were to raise money and awareness, and we are overwhelmed by the turnout and support from the community and USBC. We had no idea when we first heard the concept for this that the response would be so great and the night would be so successful."
Since the start of the 2012 USBC Open Championships on Feb. 11, the championship lanes also have been home to the Special Olympics National Unified Tournament, a youth event that gave 240 USBC Youth members a chance to experience the Open Championships and an all-Baker high school tournament for 43 varsity teams.
USBC also has developed a relationship with Habitat for Humanity, and materials from the venue are re-used in the community whenever possible. When the 151-day run of the Open Championships comes to an end on July 10, the venue will be dismantled, and all salvageable materials will be donated to Habitat for Humanity of Great Baton Rouge.
"When the Open Championships visits a host city, the bowlers and staff become a part of the community for more than seven months," USBC Executive Director Stu Upson said. "We are grateful for the reception we've received in Baton Rouge, and we're excited to be able to give back to the community through events like tonight. We're also proud to know that even after we're gone, impact and materials from the Open Championships will help the less fortunate in Baton Rouge."
Sponsors for the 2012 USBC Open Championships include Circus Circus Reno, Eldorado Hotel Casino Reno and Silver Legacy Resort Casino Reno. Other sponsors include the Belle of Baton Rouge, official brackets sponsor; Kegel, official lane maintenance provider; Humana, official registration sponsor; Bud Light and Budweiser, official beer sponsors; The Advocate, official publication sponsor; Brunswick, official lane provider; Steltronic, official scoring system; Storm Bowling Products and Nationwide Insurance.