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WBA sets base path toward leadership

Youngsters gain life lessons while learning hardball skills

Just west of downtown Fort Wayne at Taylor and Freeman streets, old baseball fields are alive with lessons, tournaments and young people striving to do their best. Kids here are learning more than a game – they are learning lessons for life.

The source of their instruction is the World Baseball Academy, located at the ASH Centre. The WBA uses baseball as a platform to positively affect young people so they in turn will mentor future generations.

That is why academy leadership was pleased by the March 3 Journal Gazette editorial encouraging the city to consider the youth development aspects of organizations vying for Legacy Fund dollars.

The WBA’s vision for affecting youth and the local economy consistently rated highly throughout the Legacy review process.

The WBA is a not-for-profit success story, sustaining our growth with a smart business model.

Nearly 90 percent of our funding is earned through tournaments, leases, rentals of the ASH Centre and instructional fees. More highlights:

•More than 2,800 boys and girls age 5 to 18 annually experience the WBA as a safe place for learning baseball and developing as a player and as a person. They participate in small-group or individual instruction, clinics and tournaments.

•WBA activities are available to at-risk youth through the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) Program, an outreach started by Major League Baseball. We partner with youth-serving agencies including Boys & Girls Clubs and Charis House to find children who would benefit from our mentoring instruction. Donors make scholarships available to those whose families might never be able to afford lessons. Wildcat League provides baseball fun to RBI kids each summer.

•Through extensive international baseball connections, the WBA offers an amazing leadership development program: teaching baseball overseas. Our global ties also will help us attract foreign teams to tournaments once we have facilities capable of hosting them.

The WBA seeks to transform our 26 acres into a world-class youth baseball complex. Plans call for three youth-size fields with artificial turf infields and a collegiate-size field with an all artificial surface. Fields built for durability and cost-effective maintenance will allow the WBA to significantly increase its effect on young people and on our community.

This is not a case of “build it and they will come.” They are coming already!

WBA Hoosier Classic tournaments generated nearly $1 million worth of tourism economic effect in 2012, according to the Visit Fort Wayne formula. An additional $21.4 million in economic impact will occur over the first 10 years that renovated fields are in use.

A leader in Fort Wayne’s sports history, Dennis Sutton, sees our vision as a catalyst for growth: “The combination of quality artificial facilities with the WBA’s established professional event planners will put Fort Wayne on the map as a youth sports center in the Midwest and around the world. This project is great for our economy, for our kids and for an older section of the city.”

We are confident the WBA will fare well in the city’s youth sports market analysis because we already successfully compete in that market.

What we really get excited about is how our programs mentor young people to become positive role models who will mentor others to be successful on and off the playing field.

Caleb Kimmel is the executive director of the World Baseball Academy. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.