Roosevelt Review: A Game-Changing Summer
By Mike Cassidy
Roosevelt Review, Fall 2012 [ PDF ]
“Roosevelt University encourages community partnerships and prepares its diverse graduates for responsible citizenship in a global society.”
Those 17 words conclude Roosevelt’s Mission Statement and describe the University’s deep rooted social justice values. The message is more, though, than just a heartfelt slogan splashed on entryways or a passage placed on University publications. Roosevelt alum and Head Baseball Coach Steve Marchi (BA, ’08) lives that mission, and to prove it all you need to do is look at what he did on his summer vacation.
In the United States Census Bureau’s rankings of the poorest counties in America, you will find a listing of neighboring South Dakota counties that have one common thread. They are all home to Indian reservations. Among the poorest of the poor, you will find Todd County, which sits entirely within the Rosebud Indian Reservation. It is a place where alcoholism and unemployment are commonplace and the poverty level for children under 18 nears 60 percent.
On a sweltering day this past July, Rosebud Indian Reservation is where you would have found Steve Marchi, his wife Sherrie and their two sons, using the game he loves to aid children living in one of America’s poorest communities.
This summer, just like the previous summer, the Marchi family conducted baseball camps on reservations in the area as part of a year-long initiative to help provide positive opportunities for young people in this underserved area. The family spends the year collecting new and slightly used baseball equipment, and then loads the supplies into a U-Haul for the 14-hour trek to South Dakota. There, they conduct clinics and leave behind the equipment to help foster continued participation once they are gone.
“Our goal is not to give them what they need, but partner with them and train them,” Marchi said of the children who attend the camp and the adults in the community who help facilitate the event. “Our goal is to have the communities start organizing leagues.”
The camp also ties in a community service element where every camper must perform an act of service to earn a glove and ball, which they take home at the end of the day. For some that means something as simple as picking up trash around the ball field prior to the camp. “It’s eye-opening,” said Marchi. “To see what they don’t have. They are kids, just trying to be kids in a tough place. There is a lot of bad they see on a daily basis. We give them a day to be loved. To play. It creates a spark in them.”
South Dakota and the natives that dominate the population in the area are special to the Marchis. Steve and Sherrie moved to Rapid City, S.D., shortly after getting married and became a part of the community. Even after returning to Chicago, the two stayed connected with friends, which sparked an opportunity two years ago. An opportunity that has led to the Marchis making their now annual visit, and the creation of Baseball Oyate, a non-profit organization run by the family to help broaden the scope of their efforts.
“It was an accident,” Marchi said of his involvement. “It started with a friend named Beau Little Sky asking if we could help in getting some baseball equipment. The first time we went out it was just to deliver what we collected and drop it off. We ended up talking to a few people and that is when Sherrie and I decided to start a non-profit organization to help develop these programs.”
Approximately 80 children participated in a one-day baseball camp on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Another camp was held in White River where there were about 60 kids.
Baseball Oyate’s outreach was noticed and this past year what was a community equipment drive turned into larger support from organizations like World Baseball Outreach, Louisville Slugger and Cal Ripken Baseball.
“Last year we put together a couple of camps,” said Marchi. “This year I received so much stuff I had to move my cars out of the garage. This year we organized more formal camps where we provided transportation, fed the campers and provided a day of instruction. Feeding them was a big deal as for some this might be the only meal they had all day.”
Baseball Oyate operated camps in two locations this July. One was at Rosebud Indian Reservation and another in White River, located just outside the reservation. About 20 percent of the children from the initial 2011 camps returned. “Between the two camps, we had about 140 people,” said Marchi. “There could have been more, but we had some transportation issues. The communities are so spread out, 30 or 40 miles apart.”
The young baseball players enjoyed a day of instruction and left with a ball and glove and the desire to continue doing something all children want to do, play. “They just wanted more,” the Roosevelt baseball coach said. “The kids are enthusiastic. The talent level is low because they had no previous instruction. We keep it as basic as possible. Patience is key. Coaching is all about patience. It is easier with these kids because they make a mistake and don’t hang their heads because they don’t even know they made a mistake.”
As Baseball Oyate continues to grow, Marchi understands the challenges that lie ahead. Community members need to understand the importance of investing in opportunities that might not have direct benefit for them. “This is a partnership and understanding the culture is a big part,” said Marchi. “We are not just looking for outside support, but inside support as well. We are fighting a lot of issues out there, some that are generations deep. There is a need to get adult participation, especially when there is nothing in it for them.”
Marchi believes the maturation of Baseball Oyate will encourage communities to facilitate teams and leagues, and possibly hope for even more for those who participate in these organizations.
“Rosebud was a pilot,” Marchi said. “We started with camps. We hope to expand to the other reservations in South Dakota. We want these kids to go to college, to get off the reservation, to see the world and then come back and help.”
For some those would be lofty ambitions, but for a man who in the past three years has not only started a baseball program at his alma mater, but helped charter a non-profit organization built on forming a community partnership to produce responsible citizens, it is just a very Rooseveltian idea.