I love baseball. The kind of love that includes things like subscribing to three different baseball podcasts, coaching two Little League teams, and having every Baseball Prospectus from the past ten years. I own enough Detroit Tigers shirts that I could wear one every single day of the month without repeating. I love baseball so much that the most surprising part of this story might be how long it took me to realize that sharing my passion with students would be one of my best relationship building tools.
Recess Baseball Club started simply enough. Two years ago I found myself bored monitoring the playground during recess time. My baseball glove, bat, and ball were in my car from Little League practice the night before. I grabbed four frisbees for bases and headed out to the open grass area on the playground. I yelled to the students, “Does anyone want to play baseball?” A mob of students ran over and we spent the rest of the recess playing baseball. Not a bad way to pass the time.
I was surprised the next day when a dozen or so kids showed up to lunch with baseball gloves. “We can’t wait to play baseball today,” one of them said to me. I guess we are playing baseball again, I thought to myself. At the end of recess while picking up the bases, one of the first grade students approached me. As the principal of the building, I unfortunately knew him well after several trips to the office. He thanked me for playing baseball with him during recess and told me he loves baseball too. He told me that when he goes to his grandma’s house, he even gets to watch the Tigers. He also told me he wishes he could watch them at his own house but his mom doesn’t own a TV. During our conversation, I learned about his rough home life and the struggles he faces every day. Baseball became a way for me to reach him.
Recess baseball club continued to grow and each day I had more students heading out to the field to play ball. We eventually ended up with so many kids that wanted to play that I had to rotate which grades got to play each period. A couple of local businesses heard about the program and asked if they could do anything to support the program. They donated money to buy baseball gloves, balls, and real bases-no more frisbees. I was surprised one day when the fire inspector called and asked if he could come play some day. He was guest pitcher the next week and the reaction was priceless. The kids were so excited to see Firefighter Brian on the ball field. We plan to invite more community leaders out this year to join us as guest pitchers. The possibilities for the program are endless.
The Recess Baseball Club had unintended positive consequences that I never could have imagined when I first grabbed the bat and ball from my car. First, the number of office referrals during recess had dramatically decreased and misbehavior had almost completely disappeared. The students were too engaged and having too much fun to misbehave.
Recess Baseball Club was great for building community in the school and allowing leadership opportunities for students that didn’t always have the opportunity to lead in the classroom. Like most students, my students can be very competitive. We set very clear expectations early on about expected behavior during Recess Baseball Club. The #1 rule of Recess Baseball Club was to have fun by developing a love of baseball. I intentionally pulled aside my travel baseball players at the beginning for a special role in Recess Baseball Club. They were going to be the most enthusiastic supporters of kids that have never played before. I loved the time I spent with them talking about how they could encourage others and how they could use their great skills at baseball to help me “coach” the kids playing for the first time. One of my favorite moments of the year was watching one of most competitive students consoling a student after he made an error that cost his team the game. In the past, this particular student would have been the first student to yell at a teammate for blowing the game. Now, because he was trusted to be a leader, he showed the compassion we hope for our students.
Another thing I noticed was that baseball was starting to spread to the classroom. Nicol Howald, one of my amazing teachers, asked if I had any favorite baseball books that she could add to her library because the kids were suddenly interested in reading about baseball. The students passed around copies of The Boy Who Saved Baseball by John Ritter, The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochrane, and Baseballogy by Kevin Sylvester. The fifth grade teachers invited me in to teach a sabermetrics lesson during math class. We proved that sacrifice bunting was dumb and learned how to calculate run expectancy. I was able to connect with kids about baseball.
Make no mistake though, this is not a story about a baseball program. This is a story about opening up and sharing our personal passions with our students to help relationships flourish. Be real. Allow your students to see the real you. Share the things you are passionate about with them and learn about the things they are passionate about. Strong relationships begin to form when we take the time to really get to know each other.