Wanted: volunteer organizer of twice-weekly tee-ball games for 80 to 120 children ages 4 to 7. Competitive spirits need not apply.
That’s because there’s only winning for Lee’s Summit’s League of Smiles players. There’s no scorekeeping, no umpire, no parent coming undone about an umpire’s call. There’s nothing much but fun.
Still, the program won’t make its 25th season unless a new leader is found — and fast, according to Monica Humbard, executive director of Coldwater of Lee’s Summit. League of Smiles is sponsored by the faith-based nonprofit organization, which is based at Connection Point Church will games played at the church’s Lee’s Summit campus.
Coldwater’s primary mission is gathering and distributing food and clothing, which is distributed free to local families in need through numerous programs. The nonprofit has only one full-time and one part-time employee, so it’s powered by hundreds of volunteers.
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Under the Coldwater umbrella, League of Smiles has been managed by Steve and Kristy Wopata for the past 10 years. The Wopatas have retired, but no one has stepped forward to take over for the couple — and parents are beginning to call to sign up their children, Humbard said.
The program needs a new volunteer(s) by the end of February. Registration needs to begin in March. A few practices are conducted during the latter half of May with games played on Tuesday and Thursday evenings throughout June.
The prospect of organizing large numbers of kids into a functional league might sound like a scheduling and logistical headache — a ton of work, in other words.
“Everybody is reluctant to volunteer for something they don’t know anything about, but I’ve had zero problems,” Steve Wopata said. “You just gotta love kids. I tell people that once it gets started, it runs itself. It’s just loads of fun. Anybody can manage this thing.”
The most work required is creating the teams before the season starts, he said. There might be eight teams of 12 kids, but there are also four or five volunteer parent coaches on the field teaching and encouraging the players at each game.
Wopata goes early before the Tuesday and Thursday games, which begin at 6 p.m. He lays out the bases and sets up other equipment on four grass fields.
“Then, I’m sitting there in my lawn chair telling kids where to go,” he said.
He does enforce a few rules, Steve Wopata said, developed by him or by players. There’s no crying in tee-ball, no spitting in tee-ball and no sliding. “Run hard” is a rule and so is “have fun.”
“I think little kids want to play just for fun,” Humbard said. “That’s what it used to be about, years ago.”
League of Smiles is like the old-fashioned backyard game with other kids in the neighborhood. In this program, little ones can play on the same team as their older siblings and friends can play on the same team, too.
For the Mueller family of Lee’s Summit, the League of Smiles met several key requirements — inexpensive (at $40) and a low-pressure physical activity, Jen Mueller said. Two of her children have played in the league, and the family recruited neighbors to participate, too.
“My kids are not super athletic,” she said.
But that’s never been an issue.
“They will include kids of all ability levels,” Mueller said.
That includes the child with Down Syndrome, the one who gets distracted picking wildflowers and the one who runs the bases in the wrong direction.
“The neat thing is that every kid gets a trophy,” Mueller said. “Everybody feels like they accomplished something.”
To volunteer or learn more about becoming the next League of Smiles facilitator, contact Humbard at 816-786-0758 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.