At the University of Oklahoma, the baseball team does 19 community service projects per school year. Pete Hughes, the head baseball coach of the Sooners, came up with the number 19 because it was his mother’s favorite number.
Blue Springs South baseball coach Ben Baier took that idea and applied it to his team, in honor of former South baseball coach Richard Wood, who was at the helm for 16 years. Wood wore the No. 9, so Baier came up with a community service project called Nine Ways, a group of nine community service projects that the Jaguars do over the course of the school year.
“We wanted to honor (Wood’s) contributions to our school,” said Baier, who was an assistant coach for Wood for 10 years. “If you know Richard, he is always involved with something. With his church group and if you call him, he will help you. He’s a really giving person. He’s been a big influence on me.”
Added Wood: “I am really impressed that these guys take their time off on the weekend to do this. I did Habitat of Humanity and the March of Dimes with these guys. It’s really cool to see them do these types of things."
Baier began the project just last year and his players have some fond memories of their work. Everything involved with Nine Ways is completely voluntary.
“We try to get out into the community nine different ways during the school year and we usually start in January,” Baier said. “We want to give back to those who’ve been helpful for us by spending a couple of hours here and there to help out.
“We don’t tell the guys they have to do it. We want them to want to do it.”
Senior pitcher Cale Connors remembers helping out and being a fan during a Special Olympics basketball game in which he built a relationship with a child with Down Syndrome.
“I built a bond with a kid named Austin,” Connors said. He couldn’t speak to me but I hung out with him for close to two hours. Making him laugh and seeing him smile the whole time and get to present him with his medal was pretty cool.”
Junior Derek Mammen remembers working through the Habitat for Humanity program and helping building a house for a woman in need. She began crying as the players worked on the home and ended up singing a hymn to show her thanks.
“The home owner was there when we were finishing up the landscaping,” Mammen said. “She sang us a hymn and it was something from the heart. It was really touching to me. It’s one of those moments that you remember forever.”
So far this year, the team has completed five community service projects. One of the first things the team did was contribute to the Bowls for Souls charity event at the school to raise money for the local food pantry. The team painted bowls and people could by them to fill full of chili that was served at the school during a cook-off.
The Jaguars also collected baseball bats, gloves, helmets and cleats among other things to donate to Dominican Republic and Cuban baseball teams that can’t afford the equipment. One of the teams that received donations sent a picture and a thank you email to Blue Springs South after the squad won a championship in a baseball league.
“They don’t have anything (baseball equipment) there,” Baier said. “We take it to a group that will send it over.”
There have also been a couple of times the team worked at Harvesters, a community food network that helps feed families in need. The Jaguars helped pack sack lunches for kids in school who don’t get enough to eat.
“We had a big group go there in January, about 50 kids,” Baier said. “We got everyone involved including moms and dads. We spent an afternoon there. The JV and C team went there the other day.
“It’s nuts when you see all the food that is there and how it goes out to other people. We packed about 700 sacks full of food.”
The team also once again contributed to the Habitat for Humanity program and helped pick up debris, heavy equipment and other stuff at a home site, to get it ready for a house to be remodeled.
“It wasn’t really exciting necessarily, but something that needed to be done,” Baier said. “We were getting it ready for landscaping. You don’t think it’s a big deal, but it really is.”
Later on this year, the team is going to work at some of the local elementary schools and the Jaguars will read to children and talk to them about what they do with the baseball team. South also will participate in the March for Dimes, an event where people participate in an organized walk to raise money for newborns dealing with premature birth.
This type of project fits right in with the team’s motto, “We Before The Me.”
“It’s really cool to give back and see what a difference you can make in other people’s lives,” Connors said. “I think that’s a really special thing and you build a special bond with your teammates.
Added Mammen: “The impact you can have is priceless.”