LEVEL FIELD FOUNDATION


Boston’s Teens Need Our Help

Pavement Pitching

As the MLB All-Star Game salutes 30 of America’s “All-Stars Among Us,” great charitable heroes from across the country, it is important to remember that there is still much work to be done, especially in Boston. 

The Boston Globe recently published a week-long series of insightful and troubling reports about how the city is “Failing Our Athletes.”  These stories illustrate the dearth of facilities and opportunities for Beantown’s teens — and the troubling trickle-down to other areas of their lives. 

Some say that the city needs to provide more budget;  others claim that the burden falls on local non-profits.  While we hope that the city will step-up, we hope to fill some of that void as well.

And, rest assured, all is not lost.  There are the aforementioned everyday heroes.  There is Red Sox All-Star hurler Tim Wakefield — he of the slow toss and the fast helping hand.  We at The Level Field Foundation will be joining the fray as well — we’re planning some great upcoming events, and we’ll be announcing our new Boston project very soon.

We won’t solve Boston’s athletic and economic deficiencies in a day.  But, like Rome, great things aren’t built in a day — and we’ll be working for much longer than that.  So, when in Rome, please consider donating to The Level Field Foundation, and rest assured that all funds received will directly support Boston’s underserved youth.  We welcome your ideas and suggestions as well.  Enjoy the summer, and be sure to savor the joy of sports…



The Miracle League Finds A New Home

Miracle League Banner

The idea came to Burke Adams, a man already established as a pioneer, in 2004. 

Having already formed a revolutionary series of sports leagues for disabled athletes in Upstate New York, Adams dreamt of giving them a place that was truly theirs — a field of dreams.  The skepticism came quickly and forthrightly – from outside cynics and, most painfully, close friends.  Even some of the disabled kids’ parents thought the field would never amount to more than a pipe dream.  An initial fundraising blast of 400 letters to well-stocked corporations netted a mere $1,100.  The vision looked to be impossible, and Burke was thought to be crazy.

On Saturday, a beautiful sun-drenched day in East Greenbush, NY, the “impossible” dream came to fruition.  Jaime M. Adams field, capable of hosting four different sports on a safe playing surface, finally opened its gates after five years of determined fundraising and unparalleled generosity from corporations and neighbors alike.

As Burke held onto a baseball bat with his beloved daughter Jaime, the field’s namesake who sat in her wheelchair beneath him, he looked to be proud, determined, and joyful — not at all crazy.  If anything, Burke Adams was crazy like a fox.  Indeed, as he guided Jaime’s hands to hit the first “pitch” on the field, sending a liner towards third base, he looked more like Jimmie Foxx.

“Play ball!”, he shouted triumphantly.  And they did…

________________

Jean-Paul and I were privileged to be in attendance for the grand opening of the Capital Region Miracle League’s new field this weekend.  The weather was pristine, the sun shining, the media and politicians all around — but the day was fully and unmistakably about the kids. 

Nearly fifty kids with limited abilities and unlimited heart took the field during a series of three baseball games.  There were big hits, great plays in the field, and even the occasional swing-and-miss — but the smiling players and cheering fans ruled the day.  The fans of all six teams went home happy, and each of the players could be proud of how they performed.  What’s better, they are nomads no more, having been blessed with their own field to be the home base for their weekends and their memories.

The Level Field Foundation is proud to have made a meaningful contribution towards the costs of the field, and we hope to donate further in the future.  We captured a number of photos and some extensive video of this historic day, and we look forward to sharing these images with you in the days to come.  In the meantime, please check-out the Miracle League’s website and consider donating to The Level Field Foundation.

With your help, we can make more impossible dreams come true…



How Basketball Gave Big Baby His Family (…Back)

Big Baby

Last night, Glen “Big Baby” Davis put years of practice to good use and drained the Celtics’ game-winning shot.  As Dan Shaughnessy noted, it was a shot that childhood dreams are made of.

But while last night’s triumph was filled with joy and validation for Boston’s hefty (in size and talent) star, the poignancy of the moment was even greater because the shot fell – literally and figuratively – on Mother’s Day.

During these playoffs, just like last year’s postseason, Big Baby’s mother Tonya has moved-in with her son and supported him at times of utmost importance.  Sadly, it hasn’t always been this way.  Tonya began using drugs when Glen was seven — and she’s never fully kicked the habit.  Once, at the Louisiana state basketball tournament, mother and son made simultaneous headlines — Glen for being named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, and Tonya for being arrested for trying to “participate” in the MVP ceremony while high on drugs.

With his mom in-and-out of the picture, and no father around, young Glen turned to basketball as a sanctuary.  He moved between foster homes with his two sisters, forcing him to “grow-up” even faster than the rapid pace that he was growing physically.  Davis first earned the moniker “Big Baby” for whining after being fouled — but managing his life required a toughness possessed by few. 

Eventually, Glen’s salvation came from Collis Temple, Jr. – a former LSU Center and pioneering African-American athlete who recognized Big Baby’s talent and sympathized with his situation.  Temple brought Davis into his home, nurtured him, and gave stability where there had been none.  Finally blessed with guidance, structure, and someone to believe in him, Big Baby developed into a man with a large-sized work ethic, on- and off-the-court. Watch the  video story on ESPN.

After huge success in high school and a Final Four at LSU, Davis finally made it to the Big-time with the Celtics – but his first two-plus seasons were mostly Baby steps.  Teammate Kevin Garnett famously made him cry during a game, bringing the old nickname to the forefront once again. Undaunted by some discouraging setbacks, coach Doc Rivers still fully believed in his pudgy prodigy, and told him to keep practicing his 20-footers…

Which brings us back to last night.  With seconds on the clock, Ray Allen blanketed, Paul Pierce double-teamed, and KG in street clothes, the ball — and the Celtics season — fell squarely into the big mitts of Big Baby. Without hesitation, Davis buried the shot, quieted the crowd and, in so doing, provided a bittersweet sort of Mother’s Day tribute.

With one flick of the wrist, Big Baby gave hope to the woman who gave him life, and the men who made him a man. But, even with last night’s triumph, the Celtics still have a long road ahead,  and Tonya’s addiction battle is still very much uphill. The challenges for Glen Davis are huge — thankfully, he might just be a little bit bigger.



Out of Memphis and Into the NFL Draft
April 26, 2009, 8:35 pm
Filed under: News, Sports Media

aaron-curry

Becoming a successful NFL player is a momentous task, even for top draft picks.  For Aaron Curry and Michael Oher, two of the top 23 picks in the NFL Draft, this challenge pales in comparison to what they’ve had to overcome to make it this far. 

Curry, who was rated the draft’s #1 prospect by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks with the 4th pick.  When his name was announced, he was flanked by Bryson Merriweather, a 12-year-old Leukemia patient whom Curry had met at St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis, TN.  Bryson was diagnosed with Leukemia when he visited the hospital after falling short of breath at a football game — in other words, football literally saved his life. 

Curry credits football with helping him to emerge from his tough neighborhood and earn a scholarship at Wake Forest.  Based on this kinship, Curry invited Bryson as his guest of honor at the draft.  Earlier this week, they shared a day of fun in New York City.

Michael Oher, a First Team All-America offensive lineman from Ole Miss, was drafted 23rd overall by the Ravens.  Watching the large, gracious young man getting teary-eyed on camera (“I made it to the NFL!”), it’s hard to believe that, just seven years ago, he was homeless. 

Oher’s estranged mother was a crack addict, his father was out of the picture, and Michael bounced between Memphis foster homes for years.  Having failed multiple grades and exhibiting a low IQ, Michael was in danger of becoming a dropout and a statistic.  But, because of his grandmother’s dying wish, Michael made a last-grasp effort to get into the local Briarcrest Christian School.  The school recognized Michael’s athletic potential, but was leery of his academic struggles.  That’s when fate intervened.

Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, whose daughter attended the school, learned of Michael’s story and agreed to take him in.   Armed with his first stable home in years, and given the help of a dedicated tutor, Michael became academically eligible, and earned a scholarship at Ole Miss.  His story is told in “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game,” a book by the brilliant author Michael Lewis.

The generosity of Aaron Curry and the triumph of Michael Oher are two archetypal tales that speak to the transcendent power of sports.  The football gridiron is often filled with strife and conflict, but its gladiators are often capable of showing ample humanity once they escape the field of battle.

“The Blind Side” will soon be made into a major motion picture.  For Michael Oher and Bryson Merriweather, who each hit (and emerged from) rock bottom in Memphis, the Hollywood Ending is already here.



A Father-Son Love That Never Gets Old
April 20, 2009, 3:04 am
Filed under: News, Sports Media

Rick Hoyt is 47 years old.  He can’t talk or walk.  When he was born, the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck, and his subsequent life has been spent virtually motionless due to a debilitating case of cerebral palsy.  And yet…

“When I’m running, I don’t feel disabled.”

Rick will cross the finsh line at tomorrow’s Boston Marathon, just like he has at numerous marathons over the years (not to mention six triathalons) — often in less than three hours.  In each case, his movement was fueled (literally) by his tenacious and loving father, Dick.

Running 26.2 miles at 68 years old is decidedly impressive; doing so while pushing another human being the entire way is absolutely mind-blowing.  Dick Hoyt brings pure humanity to superhuman achievement.

Get the inside story on the Hoyts in this Boston Globe interview, and an additional video interview with Dick Hoyt.

The Hoyts have been trailblazers on the path to equality for disabled athletes.  Their initial attempts to gain official entrance into competitions were rebutted, and they felt unwelcome — but they didn’t give up.  Two decades later, they are triathalon hall-of-famers, and a unified inspiration to us all.

A common misconception about persons with disabilities is that they are devoid of humor.  The logic behind this thinking is either that they aren’t capable of such thinking, or that their often difficult existence leaves them too downtrodden to find joy in life.  In our experience, the opposite is true — and Rick Hoyt’s sentiment on his future sums it up nicely:

I asked (Rick), “Do you worry about the day when your dad can’t push you through races anymore?” It took Rick about three minutes to type his answer. The computer attached to his wheelchair can speak the words that he types, and when he finished, this is what the computer said: “Hopefully some nice young good-looking woman will take dad’s place.” And then Rick laughed.

Well played, Rick.  Good luck tomorrow…



The Other C.C.
April 13, 2009, 2:44 am
Filed under: Sports Media

CC Sabathia, Baseball, New York Yankees

We both live within two blocks of Fenway Park, and love the Red Sox, but we can’t help but admire the work of new Yankee C.C. Sabathia, who has shown a great commitment to inner-city and disabled youths.  This excerpt is taken from a recent SI cover story:

Sabathia bought a batting cage for Vallejo High one year, paid to resurface the North Vallejo Little League fields another.

Once he signed his Yankees contract in December, Sabathia stepped it up. In February he asked to meet with Vallejo High athletic director Tami Madson and football coach Mike Wilson and his wife, school board member Hazel Wilson, and told them he wanted to supply the football, basketball and baseball teams with new uniforms—a gift Madson estimates at $100,000, more if footwear is included. Then Sabathia turned to Hazel and asked her to set up two college scholarships, Charlie Hustle awards in memory of his cousin Nathan.

With Margie serving as his local point person, Sabathia also pledged more than 400 backpacks, each filled with supplies, to the kids at his elementary school, Loma Vista, and is putting the finishing touches on a plan to overhaul his old Little League complex for next spring, complete with new scoreboards, dugouts and concession stands. Long-term? “I want to do a baseball academy, a Boys & Girls Club–type thing in north Vallejo, indoor fields: Have a bus pick up kids from each elementary school, have them come do homework for 90 minutes, then the rest is baseball,” he says.

Last September, during a Brewers series with the Cubs, Sabathia flew Hobbs, his high school coach, into Chicago. He still considers Hobbs a second father, the man who, he says, “saved all of us” by teaching boys in the Crest not just to play baseball, which is the easy part, but also to love the work the game demands. Weekends, Hobbs would have CC and his buddies hustling from early morning until well past dark, and it didn’t end there. He’d turn his car lights on the batting cage, burning out one or two batteries a season so the boys could keep hitting.

Hobbs’s oldest son, Luke, grew up around CC and is severely autistic. In Chicago, Abe and CC talked baseball and reminisced about a trip they’d made to Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park when CC was 14. Sabathia casually asked him about a treatment machine called a “hug box” that has proved to be effective in calming autistic patients—and, at $5,000, costs more than Hobbs could afford.

“I got back from Chicago, and the machine was at my house,” Hobbs says. “CC didn’t mention it.”

No matter which AL East team you prefer, you have to admire C.C.’s commitment to less fortunate kids.  We hope you’ll help us in our drive to do the same.  Donate today and help some great kids.