This year, local agency the Boone Center Inc. (BCI) is moving the famous Wing Ding festival from St. Charles to O'Fallon.
The organization which helps secure employment for disabled adults, has held the event for many years at the Bass Pro shop in St. Charles.
“We started small and have grown, but we have very loyal supporters who attend the event,” said Linda Buschman, director of development for the St. Peters-based nonprofit.
It’s the 13th year for the fundraiser, which offers a tantalizing array of chicken wings from dining establishments across St. Charles County. More than two dozen restaurants are expected to participate in this summer’s event, set for the evening of June 9 at T.R. Hughes Ballpark, where the group has teamed up with the River City Rascals.
“We’ve been wanting to partner with the ballpark and thought that would be a great venue for us,” Buschman said.
The timing was fortuitous as well. The Wing Ding’s 13th anniversary also marks the Rascals’ 13th season in town. John Kuhn, president of the baseball team, said he hopes people will come out and enjoy the offerings. He said the chicken wing-centered festivities offer an opportunity for the club to market itself.
“It gets a lot of business leaders out, a lot of folks who might not have been to the ballpark for awhile or even at all,” he said. “Anytime you can expose your business to potentially new customers, that’s what you want.”
A south Florida native who grew up loving chicken wings, he also plans to take his own advice.
“I’m going to buy a ticket just like everyone else,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun for everybody.”
Three ticketing options are available. General admission patrons can pay $30 for two drink coupons. An upgrade to $60 buys unlimited beverages while $100 VIP participants will get all the perks including access to the ball field. Wing tasting from every entrant is available at all levels. Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages will be offered.
There’s something in it for the businesses as well. Cash and prizes are available for those presenting their wares. Wings are judged in categories from sweet to hot and spicy.
“We even have a category for nontraditional wings for those trying a new sauce or flavoring,” Buschman said. “It covers the whole gamut of sauces and rubs restaurants may use.”
As in past years, wing-eating contests will have a place on the agenda. In fact, BCI has invited mayors from local municipalities to test out their stomach capacity in the event, each playing for their town’s bragging rights.
While such creative ideas fit well into the spirit of the Wing Ding, not every innovation works out, Buschman said. Early on, the hot and spicy category had its own wing-eating contest, but organizers found that competitors tended to lose their drive after only a few wings.
“They couldn’t take the heat,” she said.
BCI hopes to raise about $180,000 from this year’s gathering, which should attract more than 4,000 patrons and 300 volunteers. Funds go to help the organization as it assists disabled adults in St. Charles, Warren, Lincoln and St. Louis counties to acquire work, either through placement with local companies or employment at the BCI facility doing packaging or light assembly.
Buschman said most of the nonprofit’s work is centered on St. Charles County.
She noted that the Wing Ding has become a huge event, both for her organization and the entire community.
“It started years ago with a brainstorming session to find something that would be new, unique and different to raise money,” she said. “They held the event with a few restaurants and some participation raising a little bit of money. Each year, it just continues to grow.”
Today, she describes the Wing Ding as a reunion where people often see friends and neighbors they haven’t run across in months.
“Summer’s here,” she said. “It’s really a great time to get together with friends, but also know that you are supporting BCI and assisting us in employing adults with disabilities right here in the community.”
The event’s move to O’Fallon is a switch for BCI, which had previously set it up in St. Charles or St. Peters. Buschman said the ballpark was one attraction. The other was geography.
“It’s also centrally located within the county, and as we expand our services into Lincoln and Warren counties, it’s a good location,” she said.
Tom Drabelle, the city’s director of public relations, said the municipality is happy to play a role in the proceedings.
“We want people to think of O’Fallon when they think of events like this,” he said. “We’re glad to have them come out and be a part of our community.”
Tickets for the 13th Annual Wing Ding go on sale May 9 and will be available in person at BCI or online at www.boonecenter.com.