Your team is up. It’s the bottom of the ninth, the score is tied. You have two outs, and the bases are loaded. Baseball fans everywhere know the mix of hope and despair in that scenario.
The Lee’s Summit League of Smiles T-ball program found itself suspended there this spring. After more than two decades of play, they were facing shutdown when longtime volunteer organizers Steve and Kristy Wopata retired.
Steve Wopata has said managing the program was so easy that almost anyone who loved kids and watching them have fun could handle it. But no one came forward.
No one, that is, until the “C” You in the Major Leagues Foundation offered to partner with the local league.
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The foundation’s director, Matt Fulks, saw a Kansas City Star article about the league’s troubles and contacted Monica Humbard, executive director of Coldwater. The faith-based nonprofit in Lee’s Summit has sponsored the local players for the past 10 years.
Coldwater, whose mission is gathering and distributing free food and clothing to local families through numerous programs, has only one full-time and one part-time employee, so the nonprofit is powered by hundreds of volunteers. “C” You in the Major Leagues won’t replace that volunteer energy, but the foundation will bring more resources.
“At first we just wanted to see how we could help keep this going,” Fulks said. The local organization is intent on supporting character-based and faith-based ball leagues. “It was just a good fit for us.”
It was more like a match made in heaven for League of Smiles, according to Humbard.
“It was one of those situations where what you’re looking for is usually smaller than what God’s plan is,” she said.
They were hoping a few parents might volunteer or they could connect with a team of older youth.
“Instead, we have this amazing foundation come in and do more than what we’d ever dreamed of,” Humbard said.
“C” You in the Major Leagues was founded by Royals General Manager Dayton Moore and his wife, Marianne, to support youth baseball, education, faith-based organizations and events, and families in crisis.
Since its founding in 2014, it has donated more than $700,000 in grants to 52 organizations and to families suffering everything from devastating fires and car accidents to financial crises like the inability to pay funeral expenses
When it comes to kids, their many efforts include a baseball camp linked with the Jewish Community Center, mentoring programs and “C You at the K” days at Kauffman Stadium for high-schoolers to watch the Royals’ batting practice and hear Dayton Moore’s message.
The “C” stands for traits connected with fundamental character and leadership attributes: care, character, coach, commitment, competitor, composure, comprehension, concentration, confidence and courage.
“C” You serves several hundred youth of all ages each year, and now the program will likely add an additional 100. Last year 80 to 120 LOS children ages 4 to 7 played T-ball twice a week.
The word “smiles” in their name is significant. There’s no scorekeeping, no umpire, no uniforms, no fancy field to maintain. Everyone runs the bases so everyone scores. Outs don’t count. Having fun comes first.
There’s no budget-damaging outlay of funds either, said Virginia Marker, mother of 5-year-old Kyle, who played last year, and wife of Dustin Marker, who helped coach.
A glove and $40 is what parents must provide. It’s the best deal around, Marker said, particularly for those who want a less-competitive atmosphere. That includes T-shirts, snacks, team and individual photos and trophies for all.
When Leage of Smiles looked iffy, she surveyed other area leagues and learned they were at least two to three times that cose, plus the price of pants, balls, bats and more.
“As a parent I find I need to stretch my dollar to let him (Kyle) do as many activities as he wants to do,” she said. “I was really bummed when I found out League of Smiles wasn’t going to happen, because he had so much fun last year.”
The foundation is going to hire someone to administer the program and direct on-field activity, then stay out of the way, Moore said.
“We’re not looking for any credit. We’re just trying to do the right thing. We want to be able to come alongside and assist those families and organizations who need some help.”
It’s the local volunteers who should be commended for supporting the league all these years, he said.
“We don’t deserve any credit. We were just made aware of a need that aligned with our vision, so we acted.”
League of Smiles registration is open through the end of April at www.coldwater.me/. The season opens with two practices, on May 22 and May 24. Game one is May 29. Games are played on grass fields on the site of Connection Point Church’s Lee’s Summit campus at 501 Northeast Missouri Road.