A local chapter of a national health organization wanted to know what benefit it would receive for sponsoring our community seven-and-eight-year-old baseball team, all from the first and second grades of Tillicum Elementary School.
I was thinking about my answer as I read recent headlines.
Though not identified in this article, we knew him. That is, some of the players on the Tillicum Crushers baseball team knew him. He lived in our community. Little over a week ago he was tossing a ball around and riding his skateboard.
This tragic story of a life gone too soon is beyond words to describe for all those involved – his family, his community, the counselors and staff at his school and within the police department, his friends.
‘Two words you’ll likely never hear’ framed the introduction of what a popular speaker and author of working with youth had to say to his audience as to why they might consider declining an invitation to come alongside kids.
“You’ll rarely hear ‘thank you.’”
For the most part we will never know the impact our contributions of time and talent – and for that matter, treasure – will mean to the children around us with and for whom we roll up our sleeves and give them opportunities perhaps they might not otherwise have had.
But when a boy but seven, still so small he requires a booster seat, steps up to the plate and sees a ball approach at 30 miles per hour which is the slowest a machine-pitched hardball can reach the plate from the mound 38 feet away without landing somewhere in-between and then hears the crack of the bat, one he swung, and the cheers from the crowd that includes his mom (and hopefully his dad) and experiences the thrill of eventually, and safely, reaching home because he never stopped running despite the stop sign waved frantically by the third base coach, it is his smile, the high-fives from his peers and coaches, this scrapbook of a memory, the team comradery and the pursuit of other never-quit goals in life that are all thanks enough.
Perhaps your community is like ours: 37% below poverty; one out of four homes led by single moms and therefore without the money for baseball pants to match jerseys let alone team registration; scruffy jeans with holes in the knees; a third without mitts, and not one boy – or for that matter girl – having ever before played organized ball.
Where to start?
A field of dreams.
Taj Jensen, recently named “State Distinguished Elementary Principal of the Year” for his leadership at Tillicum Elementary School, wrote “Our students are missing out in life from the lessons that come from organized sports.”
That was two baseball seasons ago when the dream of our community becoming a part of the National PONY league (Protect Our Nation’s Youth) became a reality.
This last spring the boys and girls of the team proudly strolled the red-tiled hallways of Tillicum Elementary dressed in Crusher orange. Rallies were held in the school for the game upcoming. Players stood and were recognized. They got fist-bumps from teachers who had attended the previous weekend’s game.
Then, in just their second year with Lakewood Baseball, Pinto Division, the Tillicum Crushers won it all.
“How Baseball Can Transform Cities,” is a headline in the October 27, 2015 edition of “The Huffington Post.” The article is written by Daniel Arrigg Koh, Chief of Staff for the City of Boston, and somewhat predictably – given his position and purpose – the gist consists of charts and graphs utilizing baseball’s penchant for statistics to suggest a city could hit a homerun or two by likewise analyzing its services in terms of numbers and ratios and so forth.
But an even better way for government – national and local – to win the pennant, year after year, establishing a dynasty and leaving a legacy worthy of the hall of fame is to make its premier emphasis not infrastructure, not superstructure, but its structured activities where adults – schools, communities, organizations, churches – come alongside youth.
Koh observes, “Potholes will always need to be filled, trash will always need to be picked up and streets will always need repaving. We will always want someone to pick up the phone when a resident calls asking for a tree to be planted, a park to be cleaned or a light to be fixed.”
As to stuff, that’s what cities do.
But as to substance, that’s what volunteers with youth do: Lakewood’s Promise; Communities in Schools mentoring and afterschool opportunities; the TREE gardening program; Caring for Kids, Lakewood Baseball, and so many more.