By STEVE KRAH
Character values are being taught at a facility on the west side of Fort Wayne, Ind., and baseball is the platform.
Weaving Knowledge, Integrity, Perseverance, Respect, Initiative and Discipline through the four T’s of Tournaments, Team support, Training and Trips, the World Baseball Academy, located at the Academy of Sports & Health (ASH) Centre, 1701 Freeman Street, is working to “develop leaders who positively impact our world.”
A 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization which is completely self-sustained through fundraisers and grants, the WBA projects that it will serve 5,000 youths through its programs in 2017-18.
“We’re very passionate about helping young people becoming difference makers,” says WBA Chief Executive Officer Caleb Kimmel. “Leadership development is interwoven in everything we do at the World Baseball Academy.
“My personal passion has always been youth development. We help young people recognize their potential and how to meet the needs around themselves. How do we positively serve others? Baseball just happens to be our platform. I’ve found no better outlet than sports.”
This connection helps WBA staffers and volunteers get to know the students and encourage and mentor them.
“We get them to realize that life isn’t all about us,” says Kimmel, a Homestead High School graduate who played baseball at Valparaiso University. “We get to share some life stories with kids.”
The WBA offers training through camps, clinics and personal instruction on a paid and scholarship basis.
“We want to be good at teaching (baseball skills) so we have the credibility to influence,” says Kimmel. “But we don’t grade ourselves at the World Baseball Academy on how many kids are getting college scholarships or playing pro baseball. Those things are happening and that’s great. But we grade ourselves more on how we help other people. We have those ah-ha moments when we serve and give back.
“They take those things that they learn in the game and transfer them into how to be a better dad, a better employee, a better citizen.”
About a fifth of the 5,000 served are in the On Deck initiative for at-risk students, where the WBA partners with agencies like the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne to mentor young people and teach them values they can carry throughout their lives.
“It’s been humbling to see the growth and the community support,” says Kimmel. “If this was just about baseball, this project would not be successful. Community, foundation and business leaders are really seeing our heart. We want youth to be difference makers and better people.
The complex has three outdoor fields with artificial turf (and soon lights) and plenty of room for indoor training. Two fields are high school/college and the other youth/high school. There are adjustable baselines and mobile mounds that can be changed based on the level.
This year, Hoosier Classic Summer Baseball Tournaments held at the ASH Centre with some spillover to area college and high school fields will draw 220 teams (up from 150 in 2017).
At this time of the year, the idea is for local usage during the week and tournaments on the weekends.
The fields are also used in the spring by college and high school programs.
Caleb Kimmel says $3.55 million has been raised for Phase I of a $3.8 million project, which includes the new fields and earthwork for Phase II (which includes adaptive fields and partnerships with the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and AWS Foundation). Seventeen acres were gutted last April.
Last year, On Deck students gained fulfillment by working with adaptive students.
“Ultimately we’re giving kids the opportunity to serve others,” says Kimmel. “They realize that it’s fun to give back and to serve.”
While the WBA has no teams of its own, many organizations use the facility.
“We are the Switzerland of Baseball in Fort Wayne,” says WBA Marketing Director Kristen Kimmel.
Established on the property in 2005, the WBA began taking its message of servant leadership through baseball to international destinations in 2006. With WBA students leading the way, the organization has served in Bulgaria, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Kenya, Lithuania and Mexico. Players from Bulgaria have even visited Fort Wayne.
Besides the Kimmels, the WBA staff includes Director of Operations Andy McManama, Tournament Director Zach Huttie, Senior Lead Baseball Instructor Ken Jones, Director of Development Linda Buskirk, Scholarship Instructor Tim Petersen, Scholarship Director Melinda Petersen and Outdoor Campus Maintenance man Bud Wolf plus several interns. These are students who get a chance to experience sports management and working on their leadership skills.
The ASH Centre is also home to Optimum Performance Sports, a training facility affiliated with Lutheran Hospital among others.
The Fort Wayne Mad Ants professional basketball team trains and practices at OPS.
State-of-the-art training is offered at Apex Golf Lab.
WBA manages the facility with its outdoor campus and building of about 40,000 square feet.
Caleb Kimmel, who played at Times Corners (now Don Ayres) Little League began helping his father, Brad, run baseball tournaments as a fundraiser for the 1993 Aboit Braves travel team.
Caleb graduated from Homestead in 1999. As a marketing major at Valpo U., his internship was building a small business, running tournaments under the name Between The Lines LLC.
Kimmel’s college coach was Paul Twenge.
“Coach Twenge really had a positive impact on my life,” says Kimmel. “After I dislocated my shoulder my freshman year, I came up to him with tears in my eyes saying I’m ready to quit and I can’t go through this again (after having some injury issues and having to rehab in high school).
“(Twenge) said, ‘I can’t let you quit.’ He had that good balance. He was a Division I coach and they’re on the hook for wins, but he also knew where kids were in life. I appreciated that balance from him.
“I had a mediocre college career, but I enjoyed the experience and struggling through those challenges helped get me to where I am today.”
Keith Potter was the Homestead coach when Kimmel was with the Spartans and later helped him with his tournaments.
“If it wasn’t for Keith I don’t know if these tournaments would have ever survived,” says Kimmel. “He was just so supportive of what we were doing. He’s been a big part of us moving this vision forward.
“I’m very grateful for the coaches I’ve had in my career.”
Around 2008, Between The Lines was dissolved and turned over all programming right to the nonprofit WBA.
“We don’t want to get so focused on dollars and cents that we lose focus on being a community asset for Fort Wayne,” says Kimmel. Just this week, the WBA hosted STEAM (science technology engineering and applied mathematics) camps to spark interest in career paths for On Deck students. “God designed you for a purpose and we can help kids understand that and help them discover those passions.
“The heart of who were are is creating servant leadership opportunities. We see the power in that. Kids see this is what matters in life.”
The World Baseball Academy is located at 1701 Freeman Street in Fort Wayne, Ind. (WBA Photo)
The Fort Wayne-based World Baseball Academy takes trips to other countries. (WBA Photo)
The World Baseball Academy at the ASH Centre sports new turf fields for high school/college and high school/youth are more fields are on the way. (WBA Photo)
The World Baseball Academy fields at the ASH Centre are home to tournaments as well as local college and high school games. (WBA Photo)
One of the four T’s at the World Baseball Academy is training. (WBA Photo)
Mentoring kids and creating future leaders is the vision of the World Baseball Academy in Fort Wayne, Ind. (WBA Photo)
The World Baseball Academy brings smiles to the face of Fort Wayne, Ind., kids. (WBA Photo)
Young people learn how to be mentors and leaders at the Fort Wayne-based World Baseball Academy. (WBA Photo)