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Youth Teams Should Give Back

August 1, 2012
By Jon Buzby

We read about professional athletes giving back all the time. It's almost become an expectation; a responsibility; an obligation. Fortunately most who do give back do so for none of those reasons. They do it for the reason they should because it's the right thing to do.

This is a lesson that can and should be taught at an early age, while kids are more easily swayed to one side of a moral issue or the other.

A travel baseball team recently played a game on a brutally hot Sunday afternoon. It wasn't part of a tournament or a regular season matchup of any sort. In fact, the game was absolutely meaningless that is, in the win/loss column.

What the opposing teams were playing for was something that won't appear in any newspaper box scores, television headlines or anywhere else: They were playing for Special Olympics. The game was a fundraiser for a group of athletes who are less fortunate in some ways than the young men sweating on the diamond in front of a larger-than-usual crowd. But, as the baseball players learned, those same athletes are more fortunate in others.

The players voted unanimously to put their own money up to pay for the field rental and umpires so that the $2 spectator fee would go entirely to Special Olympics. The players organized parents to conduct a raffle and silent auction during the game, and treats were baked and sold, again, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the charity.

The athletes from Special Olympics in attendance cheered on the players, mingled with spectators, enjoyed the concessions, and acted, quite frankly, like every other fan in attendance.

The amount of money raised on this hot Sunday afternoon was irrelevant because something far more important was raised an awareness of people with intellectual disabilities. And even more importantly, not just a tolerance for, but an acceptance of, those exceptional athletes.

This is probably an exercise every youth sports team should undertake. It's an opportunity for coaches to educate about something far greater and more useful in life than sports accepting people for who they are, not what they look like, how athletic or smart they are, or how their disability might cause them to act.

An activity like this can be done like this team did or without even raising money. The money is a great idea and captures a snapshot of one way to give back, but really is secondary to the bigger picture, and the greater lesson learned here.

And it doesn't have to be a Special Olympics team. It can be any type of charity. The lesson is about giving back.

This fall I plan to have my youth baseball travel team host one of the local Special Olympics teams for a night of fun. Sure, we'll play baseball, barbecue and have lots of laughs, but the lessons that will be learned by my players - and I'm sure some parents - will have a far more lasting impression than even the best-cooked hot dog!



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