Sports bus trips dwindling, but still a good time

Bernice Bradley was having a good time cheering, chanting, and joking with everyone around her, even the soda pop vendors.

“Give it to my man,” Bradley, of Elgin, shouted when a ground ball was hit to Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro. “That’s the way to do it.”

Castro fielded the hit cleanly before flipping it to first.

“Castro is her favorite player,” Bradley’s daughter, Debbie Compton of Kingston, explained.

The two women were among a group of 50 local baseball fans who took a bus trip, co-sponsored by the Genoa Township, DeKalb and Belvidere park districts, to see the Cubs play the St. Louis Cardinals last Saturday at Wrigley Field.

According to local park district officials, the once popular sporting event bus trips are becoming less frequent these days for a variety of reasons, mainly the cost. Last Saturday’s trip cost $70 for district residents and $75 for non-residents.

Paul Bafia, the executive director of the Genoa Township Park District, said the bus is the biggest expense for any trip. For last Saturday’s trip, the group rented a Van Gelder bus out of Rockford. This year’s fees were also a little higher than normal, he said, because they chose to see the Cubs play their most popular opponent on the weekend, rather than an average team during the middle of the week, which is cheaper but doesn’t draw as well.

Bafia said the trips are never “a huge money maker” but are a good community service. He said the Genoa district has shared the annual trips with nearby park districts the last few years. The districts split the costs, and it’s easier to sell all of the tickets.

Although the DeKalb Park District sponsors weekly day trips through its summer day camp program, recreation supervisor Colleen Belmont said they don’t sponsor many sports trips any more. Weekly trips campers have taken this summer include seeing the Kane County Cougars and visiting a Japanese garden and the Carlson Ice Arena in Rockford. They are also planning to visit Brookfield Zoo and the Rochelle Municipal Airport to see parachute jumps.

“One of our objectives is to create memories for them, hopefully,” she said.

The Sycamore Park District turned down a chance to participate in Saturday’s trip.

“They’ve never gone over very well,” superintendent of recreation Bart Desch said. “We have done some things with Genoa and DeKalb in the past, but we’ve lost money the last couple of times.”

Desch added that he has tried to sponsor trips to see the Chicago Bulls play, but he had to charge so much, he had trouble selling tickets.

Belmont said she tried a trip to Raging Waves water park in Yorkville last year, but got stuck with “quite a few tickets” left over.

Bafia said the Genoa district doesn’t sponsor trips to see the White Sox play because the tickets don’t sell. He attended the game with his 8-year-old son, Colin, who was making his first visit to Wrigley.

“Certain people in the family try to convince him he’s a White Sox fan, but he’s a Cubs fan,” Paul Bafia said.

Belmont said she thinks park district trips are hurt by the large number of banks and senior centers also offering bus trips. A senior center in Sandwich sponsored a bus trip to see the Cubs and Cardinals the day after the park district trip.

Regardless of who sponsors them, fans seem to enjoy them.

“It’s definitely a fun and relaxing time,” Gina Vaughn of DeKalb said.

Her friend Caroline Juraco of Sycamore said they have also taken a Cubs bus trip sponsored by a bank.

“It’s just easier to go by bus,” Compton said.

Daniel Sester of Kingston – who was there with his parents, wife and two children – agreed traveling by bus is easier than driving to the game. He said his family is made up of Cubs fans who take such trips whenever they have the chance.

Though his seat in the upper deck down the right field line was a little too far away to get the foul ball he was hoping for, Jason Sester, 16, said he still liked the game.

So did Belmont, who was attending her first Cubs game since she was in elementary school. She said she was there as a fan and not a representative of the park district, and the tickets were really a Father’s Day present for her husband.

“I couldn’t let him go alone,” she said.

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