‘Ball Drop’ fundraiser takes flight for La Center stadium



Helicopter lands, takes flight again, and drops golf balls at Tri-Mountain Golf Course in fundraiser for the La Center community

The helicopter circled above the course as the pilot searched for the X on the 18th fairway Saturday morning.

That was the landing spot.

And yes, when a helicopter wants to play through on a golf course, the helicopter gets to play through.

Golf balls are dropped to the 18th fairway at Tri-Mountain Golf Course on Saturday as part of the La Center Boosters 2022 Ball Drop Stadium Fundraiser. Photo by Paul Valencia
Golf balls are dropped to the 18th fairway at Tri-Mountain Golf Course on Saturday as part of the La Center Boosters 2022 Ball Drop Stadium Fundraiser. Photo by Paul Valencia

This was all by design, of course. This was not an emergency landing at Tri-Mountain Golf Course. This was the grand finale of an interesting fundraiser for La Center Community Stadium.

The helicopter and crew were there to load up 1,000 golf balls (representing 3,000 tickets sold), lift the balls up high, then drop them on the course. The golf balls, each with identification markers, that got closest to the intended target would be the winners. People who bought those golf balls would take home the prizes.

All of La Center feels like a winner today.

Organizers of the La Center Boosters 2022 Ball Drop Stadium Fundraiser bring golf balls to the helicopter at Tri-Mountain Golf Course on Saturday. The helicopter would “drop” the balls from the sky, with prizes going to the owners of the golf balls closest to a target. Photo by Paul Valencia
Organizers of the La Center Boosters 2022 Ball Drop Stadium Fundraiser bring golf balls to the helicopter at Tri-Mountain Golf Course on Saturday. The helicopter would “drop” the balls from the sky, with prizes going to the owners of the golf balls closest to a target. Photo by Paul Valencia

It was a soft landing for those golf balls. Many plugged straight into the ground, still wet after a rainy spring. Others scattered a bit after the touchdown.

Each golf ball represented the hopes and dreams of someone out there looking to be a prize winner. 

Organizer Miriam Bradley said the La Center Boosters 2022 Ball Drop Stadium Fundraiser raised $30,000. Those funds will go to the La Center Education Foundation to be used to help finish the stadium project at the high school.

Miriam Bradley, right, is all smiles as she and volunteer Jeff Pratt figure out which golf balls landed closest to the target, to figure out the winners of the ball drop fundraiser on Saturday. Bradley said the event raised $30,000 for the La Center Community Stadium. Photo by Paul Valencia
Miriam Bradley, right, is all smiles as she and volunteer Jeff Pratt figure out which golf balls landed closest to the target, to figure out the winners of the ball drop fundraiser on Saturday. Bradley said the event raised $30,000 for the La Center Community Stadium. Photo by Paul Valencia

“Everyone, from the top down who was involved in this, it was totally from the gift of their heart,” Bradley said. “They really felt passionate about helping us.”

The stadium project, for the most part, has been built and funded through private donations and grants. The field with lights and bleachers opened prior to the 2014 fall season. The covered stadium opened prior to the 2018 season. Restrooms, concessions stands, and a press box were to be added at a later date.

Donations stalled, especially after the pandemic hit, and years later, those extras have not yet been added.

Bradley said she was fortunate enough to strike up a conversation with an expert in fundraisers at a soccer tournament in California. That person talked about ball drops and how memorable they can be for a community.

Bradley was convinced: Let’s put the fun into fundraising to finish the project.

Members of La Center soccer hold the bucket of golf balls to be used on the helicopter for the ball drop fundraiser for the La Center Community Stadium. Photo by Paul Valencia
Members of La Center soccer hold the bucket of golf balls to be used on the helicopter for the ball drop fundraiser for the La Center Community Stadium. Photo by Paul Valencia

Bradley has children who play soccer and compete in track and field at the stadium. She said she got motivated after having to leave an event early to bring her eldery in-laws back home to use the bathroom. They did not feel comfortable walking down the gravel path to wait in line, standing in the mud, for a port-a-potty.

It wasn’t just the lack of bathrooms, though. Bradley and other La Center residents noticed other schools using a concession stand to raise money for various school projects. La Center doesn’t have a permanent concessions stand.

Plus there is no press box. Bradley noticed Matt Cooke, La Center’s athletic director, always having to carry public address equipment to the stadium prior to each event, then carry the equipment back to a storage facility after the event. 

While the community appreciates that there is a stadium on campus at the high school now, the stadium project is not yet complete.

Organizers and volunteers try to determine the closest golf balls to the target after Saturday’s ball drop fundraiser for the La Center Community Stadium. Photo by Paul Valencia
Organizers and volunteers try to determine the closest golf balls to the target after Saturday’s ball drop fundraiser for the La Center Community Stadium. Photo by Paul Valencia

Bradley started rounding up donations for prizes. (In all, 70 prizes were awarded.) She also rounded up an army of ticket sellers.

“The reason this was so successful is we engaged a lot of families,” Bradley said. “It wasn’t just through one sports program. It was through all sports programs. Even basketball. They don’t use the stadium, but they’re helping. Baseball and softball, too. It was every team, plus families.”

In all, they sold 3,000 tickets at $10 a pop, and those tickets were used to become a number on a golf ball.

“I want my children to see a good example. I wanted them to see they can take an idea and they can make a change,” Bradley said.

There is an added bonus, as well.

“I love the idea that they can walk into the stadium and say, ‘I helped make this happen,’” Bradley said. “I feel that way about any kid who sold tickets.”

Mikaela Cone, a sixth-grader from La Center Middle School, was tops in sales. She sold 220 tickets. She said her dad, La Center soccer coach Matt Cone, motivated her.

“He said it would be a really fun activity for me. It really was,” Mikaela said. “It was a lot of fun going around, meeting new people.”

Some golf balls plugged into the soft, wet grass, while others bounced and scattered on the 18th fairway at Tri-Mountain Golf Course. Photo by Paul Valencia
Some golf balls plugged into the soft, wet grass, while others bounced and scattered on the 18th fairway at Tri-Mountain Golf Course. Photo by Paul Valencia

Cone remembers what it was like to see the stadium when it first opened. She loves that her dad coaches in that stadium. Still, she wants to see the complete stadium dream realized.

“I was really excited to see it fully built, but when it stopped, it really made me sad,” Mikaela said. “You can still use the stadium, but I think it will be really cool to see it fully built.”

While the fundraising has been going on for a while now, the literal ball drop was delayed a week. It was supposed to happen May 14, but foggy conditions kept the helicopter grounded.

It was clear skies for May 21. 

Pilot Darin Graybill of Raven Aircraft, based out of Camas, along with co-pilot Jantzen Filbrun were the centers of attention when they landed on the 18th fairway. They shut down the engine, then loaded up the bucket of golf balls. Filbrun transitioned from co-pilot to ball-dropper when Graybill lifted off with the payload.

A few minutes later, all those golf balls were falling to the ground, with 70 of them destined for glory — for prizes. VIP tickets to sporting events, concerts, restaurants, and more.

In the end, though, the biggest winner was the La Center Community Stadium.

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