4 San Diego Sports Teams Step up to the Plate for a Good Cause
Whether in or out of uniform, San Diego’s sports pros give back to the community year-round
When you’re the biggest franchise in town, you can do a lot for the community. Tom Seidler, senior vice president of community and military offers for the Padres, leads the Padres Foundation. It funds outreach in children’s health, education, fitness, and for military families. Seidler calls it “the four pillars of support: live, learn, play, and serve.”
The “live” initiatives mainly benefit Rady Children’s Hospital and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Rady Children’s vice president of development, corporations and community goals, Carol Damon-Scherer, says the Padres are a big part of its Celebration of Champions, where “cancer patients come out to celebrate and take their minds off their treatment,” and individual players do more. Pitcher Andrew Cashner donates a ballpark suite so patients can meet players.
Educational outreach focuses on after-school programs and the Monarch School for homeless students.
On the “play” side, the Padres Foundation supports organizations that help kids play baseball and softball, from Little League teams to the YMCA of San Diego County and Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
At the Y, the Padres support RBI Youth Baseball, an alternative to paid leagues, and have helped with the All-Star Sports Complex at the Jackie Robinson Family YMCA. The site was the first Little Padres Park. “Now it’s a professional-level sports complex that will be well-used and loved for generations to come,” says Courtney Pendleton, association director of public relations and communications for the Y.
“We serve nearly 400,000 people annually throughout our community and wouldn’t be able to do so without community partners like the San Diego Padres.”
The “serve” pillar supports families of military members who were injured or killed in service to their country. Recently, families of first responders were added as well.
The team also matches fan donations for emergency relief after crises like hurricane flooding.
The Padres Volunteer Team was launched three years ago and now has about 4,000 members, who stock the food bank at Father Joe’s Villages, clean up beaches, and more. Participants can accrue points and redeem them for tickets or merchandise, but to Seidler’s surprise, “very few are ever redeemed! Our fans are not volunteering to get stuff; they do it because they want to help.”
Although the latest incarnation of San Diego’s hockey team, the Gulls, has only been playing for two seasons, they brought with them a well-established tradition of philanthropy. Four historical teams have used the name, and they were reestablished as the farm team for the Anaheim Ducks in 2015. Ducks owners Henry and Susan Samueli have poured millions of dollars into Orange County via the Ducks Foundation, and the fledgling Gulls Foundation follows in those footsteps, serving the San Diego community through a variety of charitable fundraisers, educational programs, and outreach activities.
“Philanthropy is a real focus for the Samuelis,” says Gulls president Matt Savant. “Every time they see me the first thing they ask is, ‘What are we doing for the community?’” In addition to auctioning jerseys and game pucks, hosting a charity golf tournament, and the like, the Gulls look for more creative ways to help, like the annual Teddy Bear Toss, in which fans bring a new stuffed animal to toss on the ice when the Gulls score their first goal. Wrapped in plastic bags to keep them dry, hundreds of stuffies are collected by the players and donated to the San Diego Regional Law Enforcement Teddy Bear Drive for Rady Children’s Hospital.
Damon-Scherer says the teddy bears bring a lot of love and comfort to Rady Children’s patients. “I’ve met kids that keep the teddy bears they got here long after they have left the hospital and their treatment is over. It becomes special to them, a symbol of comfort during what they’ve been through.”
One of the most important Gulls community initiatives is the team’s involvement in youth sports and fitness. Having just purchased an ice rink in Poway that will become the Gulls’ official practice facility, the foundation will offer free lessons, playing sessions, and jerseys to eight squads of youth players this year, along with equipment they get to keep if they sign up for a youth league. Savant says that starting next year, the Gulls Foundation will partner with the local school district to duplicate a program that’s been very successful in Orange County, in which five elementary schools integrate street hockey into their fourth-grade PE programs, with equipment and coaching donated by the Gulls.
“Our players are young, down-to-earth guys, still kids at heart, really, who love getting out and playing with kids in our community programs,” Savant says. “I’m on a mission. We’re trying to give as much back to San Diego as possible.”
Game, Set, Match
When the World TeamTennis franchise that’s now known as the San Diego Aviators moved here in 2014, it found a large and thriving youth tennis community to support. The team helps children of all economic backgrounds through its support of Youth Tennis San Diego, which owns and operates the Barnes Tennis Center in Point Loma. Nationally, WTT has raised millions of dollars for various charitable causes, and has given away more than 300,000 junior tennis rackets and free tennis clinics to hundreds of thousands of youth. Additionally, the WTT team with the most aces in any evening of play receives $1,000 to give to a local charity of their choice. The Aviators, who won the league’s championship King Trophy in 2016 and came in second in 2017, donated their winnings to Youth Tennis San Diego this year and the Monarch School last year. Beyond that, the Aviators support local nonprofits including GenerateHope, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and Empty Cradle.
The storied San Diego Sockers, the most successful professional sports team in San Diego history in terms of national championships, are currently in their third incarnation, as an expansion team in the Major Arena Soccer League. Marketing director Jonathan Greene, himself a Sockers Reserve goalkeeper in the mid-1980s, says the team’s commitment to community engagement has remained constant through ownership changes and different league affiliations. Sockers players regularly visit patients at Rady Children’s Hospital and students at local schools, focusing on promoting a healthy lifestyle and the importance of education. “This year we are committed to doing more to support our community—it’s one of our goals,” says Greene, who also oversees the team’s new community engagement campaign, which includes the “Sockers Care” Tickets For Kids program. A donation of $1,000 provides a local nonprofit 75 loge-level tickets to one of 11 home games at Valley View Casino Center, allowing underserved youth a chance to experience a professional match live.