Islands Night continues tradition of gathering community
Now in its 23rd year, a tradition that began by Sam Bailey continues to gather the communities of Sanibel and Captiva together for a night out at Hammond Stadium.
“It’s a great opportunity to see and celebrate this special unique community we have on Sanibel and Captiva and all the people we share that with,” Richard Johnson, Bailey’s General Store general manager, said.
The event came to fruition after Sam was approached to be a sponsor for the Fort Myers Miracle baseball team. That initial idea began the night to celebrate the island.
The annual event has continued throughout the years with the support of Marty Harrity, Marie Ogden, Deb McQaid, Charlene Kocinski, Dick Meunch, Barry Roth and Johnson. This year Johnson’s daughter, Calli, a fourth generation of Bailey General Store, provided a helping hand with Islands Night.
“I am proud to say those folks are still working with us today,” Johnson said.
He said Islands Night is not a Bailey’s General Store event.
“We are a sponsor and do work to put it on, but it’s not our event,” Johnson said. “It is known today as Sam Bailey’s Islands Night. We are just a sponsor. There are a whole bunch of helpers that put the event on.”
Islands Night will be held Wednesday, June 1, with the Fort Myers Miracle playing the St. Lucie Mets. The gates open at 5:30 p.m., followed by a parade at 6 p.m. Some traditions never change – the parade will begin with the Model T Ford, followed by the Island Garage tow truck – something started by Sam Bailey.
The game starts promptly at 7:05 p.m.
“It’s one of the top attended games of the season for the Miracle,” Johnson said, adding that the majority of the people in the stands were likely a part of the parade before the game begins. “We encourage all island businesses to participate. We have some off island businesses that get involved that do business on the island, or are members of the chamber.”
Individuals can obtain free tickets from any sponsor of Islands Night. The business sponsorship, which are $100, includes unlimited tickets, optional parade participation, event advertising and tabling, as well as a free T-shirt. Johnson said the sponsors pay for renting the stadium, which in turn provides them with as many tickets as they would like to hand out to their customers, friends, family and guests of the island.
“I would love to fill up Hammond Stadium,” Johnson said. “I look forward to seeing everyone at this year’s 2016 Islands Night.”
New this year, is the offering of craft beer by High Five IPA, in addition to Bud Light. The beer is only $5 and all of the proceeds from the sales will go directly back to local charitable organizations. The beer must be purchased in either a red, or blue cup, from the island’s Rotary and Kiwanis club’s, with the money to go to local charities.
Another tradition of Islands Night is the rain that seems to fall over the stadium more times than not. Johnson said 19 out of the 23 Islands Night, rain has been apart of the festivities. He said everyone jokes that Islands Night is the beginning of the rainy season.
One year island businesses sponsored an Islands Night umbrella, which kept the rain away that year.
“Rain is part of the Islands Night tradition,” Johnson said.
T-shirts have also been a tradition of Islands Night, thanks to Mary Irving of Lifeline Designs. She creates a different unique design every year for the T-shirt, which can be purchased the night of the event, or at Bailey’s General Store.
“The T-shirts are a big deal. It’s a unique T-shirt design each year,” Johnson said. “I buy shirts for all the staff members each year.”
The event has always been held at the ball park because Sam was an athlete, athletic director at the University of Tampa and lettered in four sports in high school and college.
“Athletics has always been a big part of his life,” Johnson said. “He took that and applied that to other parts of his life.”
When Sam first started Islands Night the focus was on the youth of the community. He said every year after Islands Night, Sam would gather graduates of Sanibel and Captiva and talk to them about the importance of heading off to do whatever they were going to do next.
“He would encourage them to go to school, have fun, study hard and when you finish school don’t forget about your island community home. He encouraged them to come back after they finished school,” Johnson said.
After expenses are paid, such as renting the ball field, the money raised goes towards two Islands Night Student Scholarships and a nonprofit on the island. Johnson said the scholarships were added a few years ago after Sam passed away.
As far as giving back to the nonprofits on the island, Johnson said he’s sure giving back began after they had more funds than what they needed for the event.
“It happened relatively quickly, maybe even the first year,” Johnson said.
For more information about Islands Night, call Marie or Calli at (239) 472-1516.
Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.