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Update: This article has been corrected to reflect that William is the son of Steffan and Stephanie Burns. There are two Burns families on the team.
For a few days after Newtown’s 13U Babe Ruth and 8U Cal Ripken baseball teams were eliminated from their state tournaments, held at Fairfield Hills this past week, the games continued for visiting towns. And so did volunteer work on the part of Newtown parents, siblings, and even the players themselves.
Milford’s 13U team had just defeated New Milford for the championship on July 13, and shortly after the postgame awards and photos, several Newtown parents raked the infield dirt and pitching mound to restore the playing surface at High Meadow Field. Among the helpers was Newtown team member Kyle Mockovak, whose dad, Mark, served as a scorekeeper and one of the organizers of the tourney and also solicited most of the sponsor donations, wrote a daily bracket sheet with previous day’s box scores for distribution at each day’s game, provided statistics to media, and was part of the grounds crew team between each game.
“People from our team have really stepped up,” said Steffan Burns, an assistant coach with the 13U team who served as tournament chairman and wore many hats to help ensure things ran smoothly. “There is not a single family on our team that did not volunteer in some capacity this week.”
Mr Burns was in charge of scheduling, and he was one of the many volunteers on site throughout the afternoons and evenings on weekdays and all day on weekends as eight towns competed for the right to advance to the New England Regional tourney.
Geoff Curtis, Richard Turk, Mark Lokey, and Mark Mockovak, along with Mr Burns, were onsite throughout the tourney to make things happen.
So what is the motivation for a team to host?
For starters, most teams have to qualify for a state tourney by winning a regional event, but hosting ensures that the children get to be part of the tourney.
“It gives us a spot in the tournament. We didn’t have to win or play in the districts if we didn’t want to,” said Mr Burns, whose team chose to compete at the district level anyway. “We would not have had a spot in this tournament without hosting.”
Another perk is travel, or lack thereof. “Our parents didn’t have to drive an hour and a half each way to go to the games,” Mr Burns noted.
The amount of travel, of course, depends on who is hosting and how far teams must venture. This tourney, in addition to hosting locals from towns such as New Milford and Danbury, also welcomed Stratford, Milford, Stamford, North Haven, and even farther away in East Lyme.
Teams apply through the Babe Ruth Baseball State Commissioner’s Office late in the winter. Host towns are selected based on a variety of factors, including the field condition and whether or not there are lights.
Volunteers, Generous Donations
Mr Burns said the team would not have been able to afford to pay for the expenses associated with hosting a tourney without a combination of volunteer work and donations of products used, ranging from a grill and concession food to tents and a sound system. It cost about $1,300 to pay for field use and the lights that were necessary with a total of 15 games in eight days (and nights).
“You can’t do it without people helping and the generous donations of equipment,” Mr Burns said.
“This was a magnificent effort by everyone involved. We are very grateful for everyone’s contributions that enabled us to achieve our goals of covering our costs and representing Newtown well.”
Mr Burns noted that the work of the parents and family members here in town is an example of what goes on elsewhere.
“This is happening at all age groups all around the state right now,” said Mr Burns, whose son William is on the 13U team, and whose wife Stephanie also played a big part in making the tourney happen.
“It’s a feel-good atmosphere at the ball game. It’s fun having everyone participate. It’s truly become a team effort. When there’s a need, we always have somebody step up,” said Stephanie Burns, who organized and helped run the concessions stand and edited a visitor’s guide created by the parents for opposing teams, among other duties.
“It’s really nice to see this kind of community spirit and investment and excitement and willingness to make it as nice as it possibly can be as a tournament and for the seven other communities that are here,” said Geoff Curtis, head coach of the Newtown 13-year-olds, who was in charge of supplying music and did the public address announcing for ten games when Newtown was not playing.
Ninety Nine Restaurant and Pub in Danbury donated food and was at Fairfield Hills grilling during the two busiest days of the tournament at the start. Parents took over grilling duties for a couple of days, and the snack stand was open for the duration of the event.
Parent Jenny Hubbard organized to have Ninety Nine on hand, and parent Peter D’Aprile set up a Dine for a Cause donation night with Ninety Nine.
Tents, tables, and chairs were provided by Matt Hubbard, a sound system by Geoff Curtis, electronic pitch counter from John O’Leary, and grill from the Newtown Baseball organization.
Tournament T-shirts were sold as part of the fundraising efforts.
“Newtown Parks crews did a fantastic job rebuilding the field and getting the field ready for each day’s play,” Mr Burns said.
The 8U Cal Ripken tourney, which falls under the Babe Ruth umbrella, held across the Fairfield Hills complex at Glander Fields, was directed by parents Leigh Libero and Siobhan Frieary. Joey Libero, Frank Libero, and Okan Akbas did the announcing. Gregg Leonard was in charge with setup for the tourney. Several other parents and player siblings helped out at the Snack Shack. The cost to host the 8U tourney, held during daytime hours only, was $800. Snack Shack sales exceeded $1,200, enabling the team to cover the cost.
“Without Okan and Siobhan, the 8U Cal Ripken State Tournament could not have been the success it was. I told 8U Manager Okan Akbas that if his team wanted to host, then his parents had work to do. There is a trade-off when you host. Parents do not have to drive across the state every day, but they have to welcome our neighboring baseball towns and make those 8-year-old players feel like big leaguers. I reminded Okan of the “Be Our Guest” scene from Beauty and the Beast. I wanted the out-of-town visitors to feel at home here in Newtown, and the 8U volunteers delivered in every way,” Newtown Babe Ruth President Andy Via said.
“I volunteer because I love sports. I love being a part of the programs that are supporting our kids as they learn about teamwork, the joys of winning, the heartbreak of losing, and discovering new things about what they can accomplish if they keep trying and work hard. I love that sports allow kids the opportunities to push themselves outside of their comfort zone, whether it be in social settings, bonding with teammates, or in the physical aspect of sports,” Leigh Libero said.
“I love seeing kids develop confidence in themselves as they overcome obstacles or learn something new. I especially love seeing kids lifting up and supporting their peers. Being competitive is great, but at the same time, being kind and encouraging to others is what it’s all about. Whether it’s coaching or helping with a tournament or sitting on the board for one of our youth programs, I’m always happy and willing to step up and help wherever help is needed if it means keeping the programs running strong,” Leigh Libero added.