Coach John Taft of Newton, Massachusetts, had a pretty successful year. After leading his Newton Little League Team to the New England Regionals -- just one step from the Little League World Series -- Coach Taft could have rested on his laurels. Yet when he shifted his focus to his elite Triple Crown Baseball Kings team, he began to reevaluate his already respected program to include community outreach. "I take very seriously that my players act like kings both on and off the baseball diamond. Baseball helps these young 11-12 year-old boys become responsible young men."
Taft asked each player to write a short essay. What would each do if he could help the community? An astonishing 95 percent wanted to work with sick and underprivileged children. Kings For Kids was born. After a month of winnowing charities, the Kings picked the Child Life Services of Children's Hospital Boston. Then the magic began.
The players dedicated themselves to traditional fundraising techniques such as baked goods and door-to-door solicitation, as well as selling hockey mouthpieces. In just six days, 33 players raised $7.096.05. "These kids owned the project. They wanted to do it and saw that amazing things happen when they are all committed to a goal," Taft said. Then the fun began -- picking toys.
Working off of the Child Life Services' wish list, the team shopped at Learning Express Toys in Newton, where owner Rich Gibson provided deep discounts, and at the Toys"R"Us in nearby Dedham. At the latter they were ably assisted by the enthusiastic Ms. Dolores Crawford. The company's executive corporate office worked with the local store to provide a 25 percent discount on each toy.
Taft described the atmosphere of the shopping trip as joyful. "The kids loved completing the list, but it was especially rewarding for them to pick other toys and ask themselves what a four-year old in the hospital would like." The shopping team filled 12 carriages of toys. Checking out took longer than shopping.
The toys were transported by U-Haul to the hospital, where the players formed an assembly line to fill the lobby of Child Life Services. A hospital worker broke down in tears, saying that in her 15 years there, she had never seen young kids do this sort of volunteer work.
What's next for Taft and the Kings? The kids have expressed their interest in working with an individual child and family that they can adopt into their own Kings' family and work with not just during the holidays. They want to know their new friend personally, which wasn't possible this year at the hospital because of privacy laws. Next year will bring new rewards and new lessons.
Taft says that he learns from his team each day they're together. The team has taken his 5-year old son under its wings such that he now talks about charity work. "I want my players to understand that playing baseball is a privilege, just like their other opportunities. All of this builds bonds of brotherhood and responsibility on and off the field for life, even if they don't yet see how."
The Triple Crown Baseball Kings are just that -- kings. And they're in the best of hands.