Vern Stenman was the first employee of the Madison Mallards in 2001, and he has watched crowds in the stands grow from as low as 50 spectators back then up to a high of 6,000 or so now.
Vern gave an update on the Mallards success over their 17  years and told of some new ventures at the Sept. 14 Waunakee Rotary meeting.
He credited a dedicated group of families who host the players, including several in Waunakee, and take Mallards baseball seriously. The intent was always to have a great show at the stadium with baseball and a family fun atmosphere, he said, creating affordable family entertainment.
As the Mallards became more mature, the owners looked at what they could do beyond Warner Park. Vern said when he started out  with the team, he was 23. In 2010, the league gave another job to a young person when they started the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters. Another 24-year-old is now general manager of the Kenosha Kingfish, Vern said.
“We’re giving youngsters an opportunity to see what they can do in the sports marketing world,” he added.
In 2015, the Mallards managers realized they hadn’t done much recently  in Madison. Vern remembered when he first started in Madison, driving down East Washington Avenue into the city and passing Breese Stevens Field. He thought it was the Mallards home field.
Today, Breese Stevens Field has become “the center of cool things,” he said. The Mallards partnered with Frank Productions and began offering concerts there with the Avett Brothers as the first performers. This year, Emmy Lou Harris and Bryan Adam will perform.
“It’s been fun seeing this brand expand beyond baseball,” Vern said.
Now, the idea is to bring in a soccer league, which could receive a pretty high ranking among leagues.
The Mallards have also worked with Festival Foods to host Shake the Lakes. Two years ago, 90,000 turned out for the state’s largest fireworks event, Vern said.
This year, the Duck Pond was rebuilt with re-purposed shipping containers, allowing for indoor seating as well. The $1.5 million to $1.6 million investment allows companies to take higher-end clients for outings.
It first opened in July and the climate controlled area has reached 75 percent capacity, he said.
Similar entertainment is being brought to other cities, too, such as Kenosha, where the Kingfish hosted a Home Run Derby at the harbor and Elvis is the mascot.
“Between soccer and baseball and concerts, we’re creating more opportunities for kids,” Vern said.  
The Mallards also offers a unique experience for young people who want to work in sports, he added.
Other news:
–President Jim Kattner reported that so far, $100 has been received toward his $1,000 challenge to raise $1,000 for hurricane relief.
–Ken Pesik said if you have free time and want to help at Wauktoberfest, feel free to show up.  
 Guests: Jason Gallagher, guest of the club; Todd Kearney, guest of Kevin Kearney.
Visiting Rotarians: None.  
Birthdays: Sept. 22, Mike Ableidinger; Sept. 23, Chris Kenney; Sept. 25, Allan Dassow.
Anniversaries: Sept. 22, Rex and Brenda Endres; Sept. 25, Kim and John Phalin; Sept. 25, Bob and Karen Klostermann; Sept. 27, Mike and Heidi Ableidinger.
Greeters: Sept. 21, Neil Kruschek and Nancy Kuehn-Thomas; Sept. 28, Alan Langeteig and Drew Lawrence; Oct. 5, David May and Mark McFarland.