More than $90,000 worth of new baseball equipment is heading to hundreds of kids who play on Little League teams on the South and West sides.
Bats, gloves, bases, uniforms and catcher's gear were among the items donated Wednesday through a new partnership between Cubs Charities — which provided a $25,000 contribution — and Good Sports, a nonprofit based in Massachusetts that works with equipment manufacturers to distribute sports gear and apparel to disadvantaged youths.
The more equipment available to the Little Leagues, the more kids can sign up to play. And kids who play are more likely to be combating childhood obesity and spending less time on the streets.
"It keeps them out of trouble. It gives them a productive, constructive activity to do," said Courtney Schermerhorn, Good Sports senior partnership manager. "They can reap the benefits of being part of the team and being active."
Cubs employees sorted through more than 700 pieces of equipment Wednesday at the Park at Wrigley, the outdoor plaza adjacent to Wrigley Field. They distributed boxes to representatives of six leagues: Roberto Clemente Little League in Humboldt Park, Garfield Park Little League and Near West Little League on the West Side, Canaryville Little League on the South Side, Teamwork Englewood and B.I.G. Baseball Academy in Englewood.
Garfield Park Little League founder Frank Brim said the donation will help the league greatly. "It will give us the opportunity to switch out equipment that's no longer good, and it also does increase the money we can spend on other things," he said.
The league offers scholarships to players who can't afford the $60 fee for kids up to 9 years old and $80 fee for athletes ages 10 to 18, a cost that can be daunting for families in a low-income community.
"Baseball is a rather expensive sport but a worthwhile sport to teach life skills," such as showing up on time, being prepared and facing and overcoming adversity, Brim said.
The equipment donation from Cubs Charities follows other efforts to expand the opportunity for children to play baseball and softball in Chicago and foster a love of the game, said Jennifer Nowak, Cubs Charities programs manager. In the past, the organization has used money raised through various fundraising efforts to provide grants to improve and refurbish ball fields, and to help neighborhood baseball leagues with operating and marketing expenses.
"The core mission is to get kids playing baseball and be active and healthy through baseball," Nowak said, "and create an opportunity to learn more about teamwork and create a safe place for them to go."
Equipment costs are rising, which could trickle down to an increase in participation fees for the young athletes, according to Schermerhorn.
"It's causing this big barrier to play for youth in inner cities," she said. The donation is aimed at removing that obstacle so more kids can play, she said.
The selected Little Leagues demonstrated the greatest need for the donation, Nowak said.
"They needed an upgrade in gear," she said. "They don't have large budgets to purchase new gear."
This summer season, Roberto Clemente Little League has seen a drastic increase in participation, from 150 players ages 5 to 16 last year to 350 athletes registered this year, said president Pete Ramirez.
The league tries to keep costs to a minimum. It charges $175 for a 16-year-old to play, for example, to help pay for operational costs including equipment, uniforms and umpires, he said.
The donation "definitely helps because we didn't have enough equipment," he said. Teams had to share equipment and often relied on used equipment, while other leagues they faced had better gear, Ramirez said.
Some new bats, gloves and catcher's gear will go a long way for the Humboldt Park players, he said.
It will "make them feel a little more at an even playing field."