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All American Game : : Story
AFLAC Classic - Dan Sabreen
       
Published: Monday, May 23, 2005

Interview by Patrick Ebert

In two short years, the AFLAC All-American Classic has already staked it's claim in high school baseball as the best national all-star game, gathering the top 40 soon-to-be high school seniors for a week long event that ends with a game that is televised nationally on Fox Sports Net. Perfect Game has joined Sports America, the corporation that produces the event, as the official selection organization.

"Perfect Game is the leading prep baseball scouting organization in the country, and at the forefront of baseball innovation," said Bob Geoghan, President, CEO and founder of Sports America, Inc. "Jerry Ford and his staff have been running the Aflac Classic game week workouts since its inception and have done a terrific job."

"In addition, Perfect Game does an amazing job selecting all the players. They have a tremendous eye for talent, evidenced by the players who have attended the Aflac Classic over the first two years."

"Perfect Game has helped elevate the Aflac Classic to the elite prep baseball event and we look forward to working with their organization each year. We are thrilled to have Perfect Game associated with the Aflac All-American Classic."

I recently spoke with Dan Sabreen, Public Relations Manager for Sports America Inc., about the Aflac game, how it started, where it's going, and Perfect Game USA's involvement with the growing event.

Patrick Ebert (PE): Could you please explain for our readers what it is that Sports America does?

Dan Sabreen (DS): Sports America is an event management and sports marketing corporation which produces various sporting events. Bob Geoghan, the President and founder of Sports America, created the McDonald's All-American High School Basketball Game, the Capital Classic, the Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic and Morgan Wootten Invitational.

PE: The McDonald's high school all-star basketball game has grown considerably over the years with increased exposure on television, the world wide web, ESPN highlights, etc. What are some of the things Sports America has done to help this annual event get to where it is today?

DS: The McDonald's is the premier all-star event in the country. Throughout the years, Sports America has really helped develop the McDonald's All-American brand with a variety of initiatives such as the McDonald's All-American nomination process, a grass-roots way to promote the game. We have over 2,000 boys and girls McDonald's All-American nominees, and those nominees are honored by local McDonald's owner/operators in their hometown markets. In addition, Sports America helps put all the pieces in place for the game and game week, from working with legendary basketball coaches Morgan Wootten and John Wooden to securing and integrating sponsors. We also produce the Power Ade JamFest, a nationally televised slam-dunk and three-point contest which is televised on ESPN. All of these things tie in to help establish the brand and make the McDonald's game more than just a game, and known as the premier honor that any high school basketball player could receive.

PE: What led to the idea of hosting a similar, national all-star game for some of the best high school baseball players in the nation?

DS: With the success of the McDonald's game, we saw an opportunity with baseball where we could produce a similar event with another great sponsor. Baseball is our national pastime and youth baseball is widely popular across the country. We saw a chance to fill a void by producing this All-Star game, while honoring the top high school baseball athletes.

PE: What brought you to getting involved with Perfect Game USA, and was it the decision of Sports America to have Perfect Game USA choose the participants of the AFLAC All-American Classic?

DS: Once the decision was made to do the baseball game, as with any event that we do, we try to align ourselves with the leading organizations in that specific field. Perfect Game was obviously one of the first companies that came to mind as the premier prep scouting service in baseball. Jerry (Ford) and his staff have really helped elevate the game to the next level, from selecting all the top athletes (for the Aflac game) and also promoting the event through its vast network and resources. Perfect Game has been tremendous to work with, and we look forward to a great partnership moving on throughout the years.

PE: How exactly are the players that attend the game selected?

DS: The official selection partners are Perfect Game USA and Baseball America. They use their expertise to assess and evaluate the rising seniors in the country. Perfect Game provides those names to us and we identify the kids and do our research on them because we want to make sure they embody the ideals of being an Aflac All-American, not just on the baseball field, but off the baseball field as well. There is a strong philanthropic component to the game, and it's important that they uphold the ideals of the game.

PE: You mentioned this briefly with the nominees of the McDonald's game, but once the players have been selected, you hold a tour in which the members from different regions of the country are announced as part of a press conference. What are some of the benefits of such press conferences not only for the players, but for the game itself?

DS: Again, it's a grass-roots way to generate buzz and drive awareness nationally. For this large event, the national exposure is needed, and it helps create interest in the players as well as (Major League) all-stars such as Roger Clemens, that take part in some of the selection tour press conferences. These sites tend to be located in strong baseball cities such as San Francisco, Orlando and Houston. Overall, it really helps drive press and create interest, not only with the fans, but when other players see their teammates being selected, they strive to be Aflac All-Americans in the future.

PE: How did you get involved with Aflac as the primary sponsor for the event, and similar to the McDonald's game, how important is it to have a sponsor that is a consistent supporter year after year to help identify the event?

DS: In doing any sort of an annual event, you want to establish the brand as quickly and as powerfully as possible. Once people understand and recognize the brand, they associate the sponsor, Aflac, with the game. After only three years, this event has already been established as the premier prep baseball all-star game. Aflac does a terrific job with marketing, advertising, and devoting their resources to building the game.

PE: Since you mentioned that branding, how important is it to have Perfect Game USA involved with the selection process year after year?

DS: Perfect Game is the premier prep scouting service, and they are the organization that people associate with youth baseball. They do hundreds of events year-round, they have insight on all the players and they are respected across the country by all Major League Baseball teams and scouting directors. They are equally respected by the top college programs. Once you mention Perfect Game's name, and Jerry Ford's name, it brings instant credibility to your event. In addition, Baseball America adds the credibility as the top industry-wide publication in the baseball world. Having those two organizations involved with our event is great, and we think it's going to help continue the tremendous success of the game.

PE: Since you brought up the idea of the Aflac All-American player embodying the spirit on and off the field, the Aflac All-American Classic is more than just a game, as there is a dinner banquet, visits to local hospitals, and the opportunity for young players to meet legendary members of baseball such as Stan Musial and Cal Ripken Jr. Could you please explain the week-long opportunity for all of your participants?

DS: It's a great week, for the kids and the parents. We start off with a welcome dinner when the kids get there and they have an orientation. There is a great player hospitality room with video games, TVs and couches, where they get to hang out and really get to know each other. They have practices that Perfect Game runs in a showcase format, in front of hundreds of Major League Baseball scouts. There is a tremendous banquet where Cal Ripken Jr. is the key-note speaker, and we announce the Aflac national high school player of the year at that banquet. Beforehand the players really get a chance to meet Cal and spend time with him. Cal talks to the kids in a private setting and shares his experiences. In addition, the players visit the ESPN Zone and most importantly go to John Hopkins Hospital, where they visit with the pediatric cancer patients. All proceeds from the event go to benefit that division of pediatric oncology at John Hopkins. At that point they see what the event is all about: Why the money is being raised, what it is benefiting, and that there is more to life than just baseball. Last year it had a tremendous impact on the kids and they were really affected by it the whole week. Then they get to go to an Orioles game with the Aflac cancer center patients who fly up from Atlanta. They stay in a suite and get to watch an Orioles game, there's a great buffet, and they interact and hang out with the cancer patients. It's a great week filled with bonding, fun and a lot of baseball.

PE: How important is it to have people like Cal Ripken Jr., Stan Musial, Roger Clemens and even Rachel Robinson involved with the Aflac game?

DS: Ripken Baseball is a great partner. Cal Ripken is a role model and a baseball icon who has given back to so many kids and communities. Being associated with Ripken Baseball is huge for the game. In addition, we always look for ways to not only expand the game week, and involve other baseball personalities, but to provide a great experience for the kids. Rachel Robinson giving out the inaugural Jackie Robinson award was significant and an absolutely unforgettable experience. Not just for the kids and their families, but for everyone who attended the banquet. We're very happy to be involved with the Jackie Robinson Foundation, and we look forward to making this the premier award that is handed out every year to the nation's top HS baseball player. In addition, the game is endorsed by Major League Baseball and the Major League Players Association as the marquee prep All-American Baseball event.

PE: When the game was first started it was stated that the event would take place at a different location each year. This summer you're heading back to Aberdeen to hold the event at the beautiful Ripken Stadium complex. Do you plan to hold the event at Aberdeen every year from now on, or do you plan to move the event as originally planned in future years?

DS: Right now, it's going to be at Ripken Stadium. They're a great partner and they do a great job promoting the event. We expect to have a sellout this year.

PE: What are some of the long-term plans and goals for the Aflac game?

DS: Long-term, we look to continue the selection tour. We look to continue having the top 40 rising seniors participate in the game. We will continue to look to have our current sponsors such as Aflac, Adidas, New Era and Mizuno involved as well as Perfect Game and Baseball America. And we look to continue to build on the success we've had so far and make it nationally recognized by all sports fans. We want every kid to strive to be an Aflac All-American.

PE: Is there anything new planned for this year?

DS: This year minor league baseball is going to be a partner of the event, and the game week is going to be extended one more day to allow more time for these kids to bond and participate in activities around Baltimore. We also plan to hand out more awards at the banquet and feature other celebrated speakers in addition to Cal.

PE: When can fans expect the announcement of the players that will be in attendance?

DS: We are currently in the midst of the National Selection Tour, which we'll continue through July when we'll announce the final roster. We've already had stops in Columbus (Georgia), Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Diego. Check out www.aflacallamerican.com for all the latest news and updates about the game.

Writer's note: Since I conducted this interview, it has been announced that the game itself will take place on Saturday, August 13th, and will be played once again in Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Maryland. Russell County (AL) teammates Cory Rasmus and Kasey Kiker have been the first players named for the East team. The first Perfect Game selections for the West squad include Hank Conger of Huntington Beach High School (CA) and Chris Tillman from Fountain Valley High School (CA).

Patrick Ebert is affiliated with both Perfect Game USA and Brewerfan.net, and can be contacted via email at pebert@brewerfan.net.