Despite the chilly weather and the threat of rain, more than 1,000 Ducks fans and their families made it out to Knott's Berry Farm last Saturday for the Wild Wingers Kids Club annual End of the Year Party.
At the club's marquee event each season, Kids Club members were given free entrance to Knott's and enjoyed a day at the park before heading over to the Calico Mine Stage for an introduction and autograph signing session with some of the Ducks players.
This is the 10th year that Knott's has hosted the event, which has had more than 20,000 fans in attendance over that decade.
Hosted by Ducks TV play-by-play announcer John Ahlers, and this year's Kids Club Captain, Wild Wing himself, the two greeted the crowd and welcomed to the stage Ducks players Marcus Pettersson, J.T. Brown, Derek Grant and Brandon Montour.
To help the fans get to know the players better, Ahlers conducted a Q&A session with the four Ducks and received some help with questions from fourth and fifth grade students in attendance from Graham Elementary in South Los Angeles.
When asked about professional athletes they looked up to as kids, Pettersson referenced a couple of the best hockey players to come out of his home country of Sweden - Nicklas Lidstrom and Peter Forsberg.
Montour's favorite team growing up was the Detroit Red Wings, which was met with a smattering of boos from Ducks fans. It was Hockey Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman who Montour looked up to for what he has accomplished both on and off the ice.
Brown, whose father is former NFL running back Ted Brown, spent his younger years growing up in Minnesota while his father played eight seasons with the Vikings. Brown played some youth football as well, and he hasn't forgotten what it was like to spend time around one of his favorite football players, Randy Moss.
Brown acknowledged the lasting impact it can have on young kids to be able to meet professional athletes face to face.
"We all did it as kids, too," Brown said. "We had our people that we looked up to, and to be able to get to meet the players that they look up to, it's something that they're going to remember for the rest of their lives."
Fifth grade Graham Elementary student, Jennifer Mejia, asked the players if they could be anywhere in the world, where would they choose to be. Most of the players chose to be in their hometown with family, and Grant specifically referenced wanting to be at his grandmother's kitchen table with a home cooked meal in front of him.
Ten-year-old fourth grader Keilyn Zarate-Perez asked the players about how they develop teamwork, a timely question as the Ducks are in a playoff push in the final weeks of the NHL regular season. They all spoke of the time they spend together on the road, bonding over meals and activities, and how that translates into better teamwork on the ice.
"I thought they had really good answers," Keilyn said. "I knew that they were going to tell me that they felt like really close friends."
Keilyn's fourth grade teacher at Graham Elementary, Rachel Therrien, has brought her students and their families to the Knott's End of the Year Party for the past seven years. Each year she provides Wild Wingers Kids Club Kits for her students as a way to introduce them to the experience at the theme park and the great sport of hockey.
"I love my students, so I would do anything for them," Therrien said. "It's worth every penny. To see their faces on the rides, it's just amazing."
As a long time partner school in the Anaheim Ducks S.C.O.R.E. (Scholastic Curriculum of Recreation and Education) Program, Therrien and Graham Elementary not only take advantage of opportunities like the Kids Club, but they participate in the organization's other initiatives as well, such as First Flight Field Trip and Reading is the Goal.
"The Ducks do so much," Therrien said. "They give our students and parents t-shirts. They provide our class with free school supplies. They do so much for the students."
Claimed off waivers from the Tampa Bay Lightning on January 14, Brown has already been able to connect with the community in his short time with the Ducks through a number of events including the Kids Club party, Dux in Tux and First Flight Field Trip.
"I always like to get involved with the community," Brown said. "Being able to see some new faces and get to interact with them is always fun for me.
"I've only been here for a short little while, but I've already been able to see…this is something that they do all the time," Brown said. "They want to be a part of the community and the community is showing that they want to be a part of this organization as well."
This year's Kids Club $25 membership includes a Wild Wing jersey t-shirt, a Ducks/Kids Club backpack, a Kids Club fidget spinner, a 2017-18 calendar, a Wild Wing bobble head, coupons for monthly prizes, vouchers for exclusive parties and a free ticket voucher to a select 2017-18 Ducks home game.
For 10-year old Graham Elementary student Brya Clark, standing on stage with the players, experiencing Knott's Berry Farm with her classmates and being a part of the Wild Wingers Kids Club are some of her favorite fifth grade memories.
"I think that a good part about being in the Kids Club is that you get boxes with cool things like t-shirts and backpacks and a lot of cool stuff," Brya said. "I'm a big hockey fan, and I'm grateful."
For more information on the Wild Wingers Kids Club program, visit wildwingerskidsclub.com.