A baseball player can spot a kindred spirit even among more than 70 middle school students scattered around the grounds of Regency Furniture Stadium.
On the opening day of Badges for Baseball, a three-day long camp that focuses on baseball skills while reiterating the importance of sportsmanship and teamwork, Southern Maryland Blue Crabs hitting coach Jake Opitz led practice in the batting cages.
Each hitter gets six pitches. After Mattawoman Middle School seventh grader Cameron Coffey solidly connected with the first two, Opitz asked, “You play baseball?”
“Yeah,” Coffey replied. “You should,” Opitz answered. Then Bryce Djossou, a seventh grader at Theodore G. Davis Middle School, was up. His swings signaled summers time spent on Little League diamonds. “You play too, don’t you?” Opitz asked, earning a nod to the all-business Djossou.
Badges for Baseball has been hosted in the county for six years, said Charles County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Bill Welch, a school resource officer with Charles County Public Schools (CCPS). He was the early coordinator of the program; now Cpl. Mike DePaulo oversees it.
“There’s a structure in sports that leads to structure in [a student’s] studies and vice versa,” DePaulo said. “At camp, they focus on their own abilities, but also rely on teamwork. They realize they can’t do it all on their own.” That realization can trickle down to the way students view school, as well, he said. A student isn’t on his own — there are teachers, tutors and peers that can help out when things get tough.
The camp is free for county residents between the ages of 10 to 13 and is hosted by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, Diamond Dreams Baseball Academy, the sheriff’s office, CCPS and other organizations. It offers a camp-like experience to some kids who may not have the opportunity to have one, introduces novices to the game and allows those who aren’t so new to work on their skills, Welch said.
With some members of the Blue Crabs manning various stations — in addition to the cages, there was a stop to practice pitching, fielding and base running, among other need-to-know basics — additional support came from former Baltimore Orioles centerfielder Al Bumbry and former Washington Senator and Oriole outfielder Fred Valentine and others who are members of Diamond Dreams, said Joe Walsh, first base coach for the Blue Crabs, who is on the board of directors of Diamond Dreams.
The first two days of camp is spent developing and improving skills; the final day will be full of tournament games, DePaulo said. When the kids aren’t playing on the field, they will bide time at a games trailer, the stadium’s playground and on the bumper boats. Campers are glad they signed up for Badges for Baseball.
“One of the police officers at my school said I should try new things,” said Gabriela Rodriguez, a seventh grader at Davis. “So I signed up and I’m having fun.” Nolan Wingfield, also a Davis seventh grader, isn’t a baseball player, although the professional players at the camp suggested he has a talent for it that should be developed. It’s Wingfield’s second year taking part in Badges for Baseball. “It’s fun,” he said. “And you learn things.”
Hailey Carroll is a veteran softball player. “It sort of runs in the family,” said the John Hanson Middle School seventh grader, adding that her father introduced her to the game. It’s her first year at camp, where her batting skills impressed Opitz. “This is a chance to learn more and have some fun this summer spent with friends,” she said.
Charles County Public Schools provides 26,300 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.
The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Dr. Patricia Vaira, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Pamela K. Murphy, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.