ORONO, Maine — For more than a century, baseball has helped unify people across the nation, from every walk of life.
That dynamic will be in evidence Saturday at the University of Maine, which will host the second “Badges for Baseball” Day.
An estimated 125 underprivileged youngsters from around Maine, many of whom may never have visited the UMaine campus, will do so as part of a daylong event.
The multifaceted program, sponsored by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, seeks to teach baseball to young people in a clinic setting. It places them in contact with law enforcement officers and representatives of the UMaine athletics department, including the players and coaches of the Black Bears’ baseball and softball teams.
Noel March, the U.S. Marshal for Maine and the former UMaine chief of police, said baseball and softball taught “The Ripken Way” aims to develop character and give disadvantaged youth the chance to learn and succeed. “Badges for Baseball” is a crime prevention program that introduces children ages 12-15 to officers from law enforcement agencies in the hope of shaping a positive relationship.
“Core values of life are being taught through the game of baseball and they are being encouraged by mentors — local, county, state and federal law enforcement officers,” March said.
The officers taking part in the program are either volunteering or being sent by their respective agencies.
“It doesn’t only teach baseball skills,” he added. “It uses teamwork, fair play, following the rules, helping one another and health and fitness, along with having fun.”
The event is being sponsored by the Ripken Foundation and LexisNexis Special Services Inc., a company that provides computer-assisted legal research services.
The CEO of LexisNexis is Woody Talcove, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public administration from UMaine.
“Participation in this youth-oriented activity fits in perfectly with our corporate social responsibility goals,” Talcove said in a press release. “Our entire team is thrilled to be a part of this exciting program that shows kids across the country that they can achieve great things if they make the right choices.”
Maine Department of Housing and Urban Development Field Office Director Bill Burney was responsible for identifying youngsters who would benefit from the program. March explained the multicultural contingent will include representatives of the Micmac and Passamaquoddy nations as well as immigrants from countries such as Somalia and Sudan who are living in Portland and Lewiston.
March said the initiative is a nice fit with UMaine’s ethnic and cultural diversity.
As part of the cooperative effort, representatives from the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation will fly to Maine to conduct the baseball/softball clinic. They will be assisted at one of five stations by law enforcement and UMaine ballplayers and coaches.
There will be stations for batting, fielding, throwing and running. The fifth part of the circuit is a law enforcement vehicle station, where officers will show off police cars, motorcycles, K-9 dogs and a Coast Guard patrol boat while talking with clinic participants about their jobs.
UMaine baseball head coach Steve Trimper is pleased to have his program involved with the program.
“It’s a great opportunity for our guys at Maine baseball to work inside the community to not only help promote baseball but to work with kids on their life skills,” Trimper said.
March, UMaine President Paul Ferguson and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud will make opening remarks, with the clinic slated from 10:40 a.m. to noon. After lunch, participants will take a campus tour and see a law enforcement demonstration.
Each youngster will receive a baseball glove, a baseball cap, a shirt and a gym bag.
March said Walter McNeil, the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, will visit Orono on Saturday to evaluate Maine’s “Badges for Baseball” model and consider using it annually in the host city of the national chiefs of police project.
“It is one of the higher-impact, higher-result [community outreach] programs I’ve ever seen,” said March, who has 34 years of law enforcement experience.