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Boys and girls from Willard Elementary School attend a Phillies baseball game.

Swinging for a Better Tomorrow: How Baseball is Changing Students’ Lives in Kensington, PA

The opioid epidemic has left a profound impact on numerous cities across the United States. Among these communities, Kensington, nestled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, faces the significant impact of addiction's consequences. In response to these challenges, the DEAEF Youth Baseball Program partnered with DEA's Operation Engage to bring baseball into the lives of Kensington's youth, fostering self-confidence and a positive self-image.

The 10-week program consisted of 24 boys and girls from Willard Elementary School. They met twice a week after school for an hour and a half each day to learn how to play baseball. Several members of the community, including retired police officers, a former employee at the FBI, a local minister, and more, came out to help. These mentors and coaches offered their time, knowledge, and love of the game to the kids, and the children responded with great enthusiasm and appreciation.

During one of the after-school practices, DEA's Diversion Outreach Coordinator Frank McCartney and Andrew Eiseman, DEA’s Community Outreach Specialist, spoke to the students about drug abuse and misuse. They emphasized the importance of making good choices to take care of their minds and bodies. Their message also included how hobbies and cultivating new interests, like baseball, are powerful strategies to remain healthy and drug-free.

“Baseball is not just a game; it’s a powerful tool that can transform lives. By providing baseball to kids who normally wouldn’t get the chance to play, we not only give them an opportunity for joy and camaraderie but also a powerful shield against the temptations of drugs. Through the magic of baseball, along with the wonderful people involved in the program, we are building a future free from addiction and filled with hope.”

Frank McCartney, DEA's Diversion Outreach Coordinator

At the end of the 10-week program, the students received baseball equipment so they can continue playing. Special care was taken to ensure that both right and left-handed students received the correct gloves. They also received hats, t-shirts, bags, and baseballs.

“They were so appreciative of the equipment,” said Rick Zeitlin, DEAEF Regional Manager. “In fact, they were incredibly appreciative and engaged during the whole program. They deal with some incredibly tough circumstances, and they were so happy to have this opportunity to challenge themselves and learn something fun instead of just going home after school.”

In addition to the 10-week program, Zeitlin tapped into his personal contacts in the baseball world to create two special events. The first event was a field day for the students, where they were taken on a bus to Scanlon Rec Center in Philadelphia to learn baseball from a few professional baseball players with the Phillies. Each student received a free lunch and returned home that afternoon. The next day, the second event took place where the students got back on the bus and attended a Phillies game. Each student received a $12 voucher which covered a hotdog, drink, and peanuts—the quintessential baseball meal!

“It was an exciting game because the Phillies won in a walk-off home run,” said Zeitlin. “The kids were so excited to see a professional game and even recognized some of the players who had taught them the day before. It was an experience they will never forget.”

Through the DEAEF Youth Baseball Program, this transformative initiative has not only taught the youth the fundamentals of the sport but has also instilled valuable life skills, camaraderie, and a strong shield against the temptations of drugs. The unwavering dedication of mentors, coaches, and the support of the DEA has helped these young minds break free from the clutches of addiction and embark on a path filled with hope, joy, and a brighter future. The impact of this program serves as a testament to the transformative power of sports, proving that a game can indeed change lives and light the way for a thriving and resilient community.

by Meredith Liepelt

Updated Sep 14, 2023