The No. 9 is very important to Ben Baier, the coach of the Blue Springs South baseball team, and his players.

That is the number former head coach Richard Wood wore for the 16 years he was at the helm of one of the top programs in the state.

But the No. 9 holds a much more significant meaning than a retired coach’s retired number.

Out of his respect and admiration for Wood, Baier came up with an annual service project called Nine Ways, which refers to nine community service projects his players complete over the course of a school year.

“We wanted to honor Coach Wood’s contributions to our school,” said Baier, who was an assistant coach with Wood for 10 years. “If you know Richard, he is always involved with something.

“If you need help with a project, just call Richard. He is such a giving individual, and I want our players to be the type of young men who grow up to be great fathers and husbands – young men who know what it means to give back to their community.”

And Nine Ways serves that purpose.

“I am really impressed that these guys take time on their weekends off to do community service projects,” said Wood, who manned a rake and worked alongside Baier, his coaches and players on the most recent Nine Ways project.

They were joined by Habitat for Humanity construction project manager Al Harris as they cleaned up a vacant lot that is less than a mile from the high school.

The lot, which needed to have debris and dead trees cleared out, will be the site of a future home for a veteran in need. It is part of Habitat for Humanity’s Veterans Build Project, which Harris oversees.

“We know we can always count of Coach Baier and his players,” Harris said as players cleaned the lot. “In the past, South’s players have put the finishing touches on some homes and done some repair work, but most of it was in Independence.

“This project is special to them because they can run by the lot, going or coming home from school, and check the progress. And I’m pretty sure they can help put the finishing touches on this home sometime next year.”

That comment brought a huge smile from senior shortstop and team leader John Herrman, who comes from a military family and plans on one day serving his country in the armed forces.

“This is the third year I’ve been involved in this community project and this one is the most special for me personally,” Herrman said. “The military is very important to me and my family, and one day I hope to serve in the military.

“When I found out that we were getting a lot ready for a home to be built for a veteran, I really got excited. And one of the best things about the community project is that it gives us a chance to bond.”

Herrman was raking leaves alongside one of the newest members of the South baseball team, sophomore Isaiah Frost.

“We’re all out here working like a family,” Frost said. “It’s so cool to be with your baseball brothers, help a veteran and make our community a better place. You can just look around and see how all the guys are really working hard, and they’re having a good time while they’re working.’

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, and it’s completely voluntary, but every guy usually comes out unless they have a work commitment.”

Past projects have ranged from laying wreaths at a cemetery in Lexington and painting bowls for the annual Bowls for Souls event that raises money to purchase food for needy families to adopting a family during the holidays and working at local food pantries.

“It’s really cool to see something like this, especially with the players from South,” said Wood, who barely had time to talk about the project that bears his name because he was so intent on cleaning the lot.

“Ben is a great coach and a great friend. But most important to me and everyone who knows him, he is a great man who believes in giving back to his community. And that is what this day is all about.”