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Tracy Frank, Published November 20 2012

Baumgartner a ‘force’ to reckon with

FARGO – Whitney Baumgartner grew up around hockey.

Her dad coached men’s hockey at Concordia College for 22 years, her uncle is a scout in the National Hockey League and she has a cousin who played in the NHL and is now an assistant coach in the American Hockey League.

“I’ve kind of grown up around the sport, and I just really got to love it,” said Baumgartner, who is the special events, community and media relations manager for the Fargo Force hockey team.

Baumgartner said sometimes it’s difficult for women to work in sports, and she sometimes feels people don’t think she has that much knowledge of hockey because she’s a woman. But working for the Fargo Force the past five years has given her a lot of experience and credibility.

“I think I’ve surprised a lot of people,” she said. “If somebody asks me who the leading scorer is, I can tell you. I know the game really well, and that’s from being around it my entire life, and I think that does help give me a lot of credibility in this position.”

In addition to writing news releases and coordinating media interviews with the players and coaches, Baumgartner is also responsible for making promotional nights happen, writing up game itineraries and making sure they follow a strict schedule of events.

“What a lot of people don’t know about Force games is we do have a strict timeline of events that we have to follow,” she said. “Our warm-ups have to start 35 minutes prior to the game. I have to make sure the national anthem starts two minutes prior to our puck drop. You can get fined by the USHL (United States Hockey League) or you can get warnings if you don’t start on the exact time your game is supposed to start.”

A lot goes into the production of a game, Baumgartner said. There are video boards, in-game promotions, contests on the ice, and a play land and puck shoot for kids.

“From the moment our doors open to the final buzzer, we want it to be completely interactive for our fans,” she said. “One thing we really pride ourselves on is we have fans who come in here who aren’t necessarily hockey fans, and they have a really good time at the game. That’s what it’s all about.”

Hockey season goes from September to April. Baumgartner said it’s pretty popular and attendance has been increasing. The Fargo Force has the second-highest attendance for games out of 16 teams in the USHL, she said.

“We’re really proud of that, but we don’t just sit back and say we’re fine,” she said. “We’re constantly trying to come up with new ideas and promotions to keep the fans engaged.”

During the week, Baumgartner works with the players and coaches on getting them out into the community, she said.

Baumgartner created a Fargo Force reading program three years ago that’s now in schools within a 30-mile radius of Fargo with more than 2,000 kids participating. Students are rewarded for reading a certain number of minutes, and readers of the month are recognized at a game, she said.

“It’s really cool to see all of my hard work out in the community,” she said. “It’s really rewarding to see that.”

While Baumgartner, who grew up in Moorhead and attended Concordia, loves hockey, she’s never played it.

“I actually don’t know how to skate,” she said.

She’s starting to learn this year and tries to practice when the players are gone because she doesn’t want them to make fun of her, she said.

“I figured I might as well try and see what it’s all about,” she said. “I’m extremely impressed with people who do play hockey because it’s very, very difficult.”