Suns burial promotion makes news

June 22, 2003|by TARA REILLY

A funeral giveaway sponsored by the Hagerstown Suns and a local funeral home has made the news in cities across the country and has received airtime on ESPN and space in Sports Illustrated.

Suns General Manager Kurt Landes said Friday the minor league baseball organization has received interview requests from as far away as Sacramento, Calif., Dallas and Toronto.

The promotion, announced in May by the Suns and the Gerald N. Minnich Funeral Home on North Potomac Street in Hagerstown, asks fans to write an essay "describing how they would plan their ideal funeral, detailing themes, music, location, participants, etc."


The contestant with the best entry wins a pre-planned funeral valued at $5,500 from Minnich Funeral Home, Landes said. The goal of the contest is for fans to have fun while the funeral home raises awareness about money that can be saved by pre-planning funerals, he said.

Funeral Home Director Bryan Kenworthy was out of the office and could not be reached for comment Friday.

Landes said he knew the promotion was unique, but he didn't know how much national interest it would bring.

"We are very excited ... that it would draw so much attention, but to what extent, we didn't know what to expect," Landes said.

One thing the Suns aren't getting from all the attention is more fans in the seats.

Landes said the average attendance so far this season is down slightly from last year, but the decrease might be because of the high number of rainouts this season.

The Suns' total attendance through the first 35 home games of the season is 37,733 people. Five games have been rained out, he said. The total attendance for the same number of games last season was 42,213, with two games rained out.

The average per-game paid attendance this season is 1,257 people, compared with 1,279 at the same time last season, Landes said.

"We're pretty pleased with where we're at, given the hand we've been dealt by Mother Nature," Landes said.

The South Atlantic League, to which the Suns belong, estimated the average per-game attendance for the Suns this season would be 1,571, according to the league's Web site. At that rate, the Suns would end the 2003 season with the third lowest attendance average of the 16 teams in the league.

League Administrative Assistant Patrick Heavner said while it's possible for the Suns and other teams to increase their per-game attendance average, attendance will probably decrease because of the rainy season.

"We're still holding out hope" that attendance will increase, Heavner said.

Heavner said he heard about the Suns funeral giveaway and that the Charleston, S.C., RiverDogs, also in the South Atlantic League, had a similar promotion a few years ago.

"If it creates fan excitement, that's all the better," Heavner said.

Charleston RiverDogs Assistant General Manager Jim Lucas said contestants in his team's 2000 promotion were asked to write essays on what would make their memorial service or eulogy unique. About 150 people entered the contest to win a $4,000 funeral that came with a casket, a funeral service, embalming and transportation.

He said the funeral home approached the RiverDogs with the promotion concept in an attempt to get new ideas for funeral services.

Lucas said that while the promotion didn't boost game attendance, it helped a local family whose child had been dying of cancer.

The winning essay was by a woman who worked at a facility for cancer patients who gave her funeral certificate to a family in need.

"It was just incredibly touching," Lucas said. "And the funeral home got some tremendous ideas."

Landes said the feedback the Suns have been getting has all been positive and that minor league baseball teams are known to use "out-of-the box" promotions for attention.

"I think people are having a lot of fun with it," he said.

He said he didn't know how many essays fans have sent in so far, because some have gone to the Suns' office and some have gone to the funeral home.

Two contestants, Richard Crabb of Baltimore and James Stiles of Chambersburg, Pa., have been picked as finalists. Landes said two more finalists will be picked July 12 and another two Aug. 15. Crabb and Stiles could not be reached for comment Friday.

All six finalists will read their essays at a game on Aug. 16 before a panel of six judges who will pick a winner.

"We want this to be a lighthearted subject and for people to think about their ideal funeral," Landes said.

The Herald-Mail Articles