Jordan baseball gives back to the communityJan 15, 2020 12:33PM ● By Ron Bevan
Among the chores facing the boys of the Jordan baseball team included doing the dishes and cleaning up after the meals. But, don’t tell their moms they do dishes. (Photo provided by Jordan High School)
By Ron Bevan | [email protected]
In the spring the pitchers of the Jordan boys baseball team are known for serving up fastballs and curveballs. The power hitters on the team are serving up home runs.
But in November the Beetdiggers were serving up Thanksgiving dinners to families in need, and in December the boys were back at it again, serving up meals for the homeless.
It is all part of the annual service project for the boys baseball team at Jordan. It is a chance for them to get a peek at what life may be like for those less fortunate and also a way to improve their own life skills.
“What these boys do for people is amazing,” Jordan Athletic Director Jason Long said. “They are a model of what high school athletics is about. I would argue that winning games is a byproduct of a program that helps the kids grow like this and help the community.”
Each year the boys on the baseball team volunteer their time at St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall in downtown Salt Lake City. It is a service project varsity baseball coach Chad Fife began six years ago. It is strictly volunteer for the boys to show up for the project, but turnout each year has been good.
“We get about 90% participation for the service project,” Fife said. “Some of the boys can’t do it due to commitments with other sports and other activities, but those that come out seem to have a good time serving. The parents of our boys love that we do this and teach their boys to help others in time of need.”
When Fife took over the baseball program at Jordan, he knew he wanted to change the boys’ lives in ways that would extend past baseball. For some, baseball could become a profession as it has for Jordan’s former player Colton Shaver, now playing for the Corpus Christi Hooks in the AA professional ranks. For others, baseball is a ticket to additional education at the college level. But for most players, high school will mark the end of their baseball career.
To that end, Fife knows he is entrusted to not only put out a great product on the baseball field each year, but also turn the boys into men, the kind of men their parents will be proud of.
“The reasons we push for them to do service is to help improve their conduct, their grades and respect for others,” Fife said. “I am trying to teach them that everything matters, not just how hard they swing a bat. I expect the kids to handle themselves as gentlemen and that they represent Jordan the best way possible. Being a player at Jordan means you succeed every way possible. Service helps that happen.”
Six years ago, Fife was looking for the right service project for the boys to help out. He found it in St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall, part of Utah’s Catholic Community Services (CCS). The hall has been serving hot meals to those who are hungry since 1967.
“We serve up 300 to 500 meals every day,” said Monica Rich, the volunteer coordinator for CCS. “ We need 50 to 75 volunteers every day, so when we get a group like the boys from Jordan we are set for the night’s dinner.”
The dining hall will serve a hot meal to anyone in need, whether they are homeless or just can’t scrape up enough money for a meal that night.
The baseball teams shows up early, about two hours before dinner is served, and dig in to help make sure the night goes smoothly. Jordan High School’s registrar Heather Perschon helps to organize the annual service project, even though she doesn’t have a son on the team.
“It was a little bit different this year because the kitchen restructured how the serve,” Perschon said. “The kitchen is much bigger now so they can make more meals to serve at the dining hall as well as send it out to the community.”
Jordan’s boys begin the night helping to prepare the meals and clean the kitchen. Then, when the meals are ready, players are assigned different tasks that need to be accomplished.
“Some of the boys get assigned to serve the meals, some get assigned to clear tables and some might be sweeping up messes or doing the dishes,” Perschon said. “It is one of the best experiences we can give the boys. I think it is best for the kids to see how lucky we are and how in the blink of the eye you can be homeless. Some of the people that come in don’t seem like they are down on their luck, but they just don’t have enough to be able to feed themselves as well.”
This year the boys, along with the coaching staff, were joined at St. Vincent de Paul by Jordan Assistant Principal Roberto Jimenez, who wanted to see what the team accomplishes over the winter.
“I am a huge advocate for giving service and watching what the kids can accomplish when they are out there helping the community,” Jimenez said. “A lot of times these athletes are the ‘popular’ kids in the school. And you might think that they don’t care because of their popularity. But then you watch them out there helping. They may see somebody drop a tray and they run over there and tell the person they will clean it up. Or they will walk with them or tell them they will get the person’s food and deliver it. It is very inspiring to see this happen.”
According to Jimenez, there have been several instances where the boys who helped on the night the baseball team showed up would come back to the dining hall throughout the year, bringing their own families to serve those in need.
“Overall human nature is good and it is nice to provide the opportunities where this can come out for the kids,” Jimenez added. “I think it sharpens their awareness to their surroundings and people near them, even in the school, that may need a moment of their time.”
This year Fife found a second project that seemed like a worthy cause for the boys to be involved with. So the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the team showed up to help Thanksgiving’s Heroes, a project started locally by Rob Adams to help feed a complete Thanksgiving meal to families in need.
“This year we had a task of unloading and sorting 2,543 turkey dinners before Thanksgiving,” Adams said. “Jordan’s boys showed up early, sorted the food and helped deliver it. The coach had those boys working hard.”
Thanksgiving’s Heroes began as a simple gesture of gratitude from Adams, a resident of Herriman. When he was young, there were times his family struggled and he hadn’t forgotten. So one year he decided to help other families.
“Someone did it for my family and I wanted to help others out,” Adams said. “I had no intention of doing it more than one year and I started out wanting to feed 10 families. But the first year we had about 750 we were able to serve and it has grown from there. We provide a full Thanksgiving meal from the turkey right down to the rolls and cranberry sauce, with enough leftovers to last a week.”
All of that takes the organization time and money. Donations and help are a necessity.
“All year long we raise money so I can write the check for groceries for this event,” Adams said. “This year we wrote a check for $170,000 to feed everyone.”
And through the years Adams has had people donate their time to help deliver the meals. But it was this year with the Beetdiggers he says he will remember.
“We always have people come in groups and some work hard and stay the whole time and others might not have the same work ethic,” Adams said. “But I was very impressed with Jordan’s baseball team. The boys stayed the whole time and hustled. There was nobody standing around with their hands in their pockets.
Having a coach like Fife makes Jordan Principal Wendy Dau’s job much easier, as she has seen the difference it makes in the school.
“He has the attitude that he wants baseball to build character,” Dau said. “He has a strict code of conduct. He believes the boys and the coaches are supposed to be held to a high standard. He not only does the service projects, but he has taught the boys to take the time during school lunch to find the kids that may need a friend to sit with them. The players sit down and eat with those other students that may not be noticed by others.”
What does all this service mean to the players? For senior third baseman Ricky Medina it has given him a new outlook on life. Medina has made sure to be involved all four years of his high school career.
“Coach Fife teaches us how to win games, but also teaches us how to grow like men and be better people in society,” Medina said. “The first time I went I realized how privileged I really am and to be grateful and stay on the right track for life. It is honestly fun to do. You are with your team and the people we serve are grateful and always say thank you.”
Medina was on the Jordan team that won the state championship in 2018. That will be a big memory for him, but he says the service projects will be right there as well.
“All the team-building stuff we have done will have a lasting effect on me,” Medina said. “It is just going to help me develop relationships that I will have all my life. I will be friends with my teammates forever.”