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Wichita rallies to replace League 42’s stolen youth baseball equipment

Take a look at League 42

(AUGUST 20, 2018) -- Take a look at League 42, the youth baseball league started in 2013 for boys and girls ages 5 to 14.
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(AUGUST 20, 2018) -- Take a look at League 42, the youth baseball league started in 2013 for boys and girls ages 5 to 14.

It didn’t take long for League 42 to restock its baseball gear.

After the league was recently robbed of 150-200 bats and equipment bags, it asked the community to donate. In two hours on Saturday afternoon, more than 100 people showed up at McAdams Park to give what they could.

“They managed to turn a negative into an incredible positive, and we’re forever grateful for that. We’ve recouped all the equipment that was lost, and some,” said Bob Lutz, former Eagle sports columnist and founder of League 42.

For League 42, the donations mean kids whose families otherwise might not have enough money to afford new equipment will get a chance to play with decent equipment this year.

“That’s so important to these kids’ confidence,” said Connie Schmidt, whose family has been involved in local baseball for years. “To a kid, a new bat is everything.”

Schmidt and her family gave 13 brand new bats and a bucket of balls to the league.

Shelly Simon made sure to bring her children, who play in a different league, along to teach them the importance of community.

“They learn it’s not just about themselves, that there are kids out there who might not be able to afford new gear every year. They need to learn that they’re a part of a community — and giving when you can teaches that,” Simon said.

For Izzy and Ava Ristich, 11- and 8-year-old sisters who play for the Sharks in League 42, Saturday’s giving meant “people care about us” and “that anyone can play.”

When the sisters found out the gear had been stolen, they said they were “sad and nervous” that they and their teammates wouldn’t be able to have a season this year. But after seeing the outpouring of support, those nerves turned to pure joy.

“It makes me feel special,” Izzy said. “I feel amazed.”

Ava said she can’t wait to step up to the plate this spring.

League 42, for children ages 5-14, is a nonprofit youth baseball organization. It costs $30 a family and practice starts March 11. Teams practice and play games at McAdams Park at 17th Street and Wabash, near I-135 and 13th Street.

Equipment is important to League 42 because its $30-a-family fee provides each child with a full uniform, a baseball glove and additional gear, including catcher’s gear, bats and balls.

“We put these money and contributions to very good use to help kids, and we’re proud of that record,” Lutz said, “and we hope to never have to go through anything like this again.

“League 42 is going to be here for a long long time. This is just a blip on the radar. We’re going to put everything that we’ve been fortunate to receive to very good use.”

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Chance Swaim won the Betty Gage Holland Award in 2018 for distinguished service to honor and protect the integrity of public dialogue on America’s college campuses. He has been a news reporter for The Wichita Eagle since 2018. You can contact him at 316-269-6752 and cswaim@wichitaeagle.com.

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