Sports Doing Good Newsletter, #172

July 12 – July 18, 2015

Welcome to week one hundred seventy-two of the Sports Doing Good newsletter. This week’s 10 stories include:

  1. How Teen With Cerebral Palsy Inspired Nike Shoe For Those With Special Needs (w/ video)
  2. What Finland Can Teach America About Baseball
  3. An American in Milano
  4. Mariners great Ken Griffey Jr. shares his perspective on parents’ roles in youth sports
  5. Boston University Female Powerlifter: ‘I’m Not Strong for a Girl – I’m Just Strong’ (w/ video)
  6. Young Afghans find freedom through freerunning flips
  7. Street Soccer USA’s Third Annual Times Square Cup Brings Awareness to Growing Homelessness Trend
  8. Cuban youth baseball team cherishes playing at Disney for first time
  9. The miracle of Sporting Gijon; The remarkable story of one of Spanish football’s most unlikely promotions.
  10. A Long Hardwood Journey

The theme that we wanted to address this week is freedom. Several of the stories highlighted speak to that idea in some way. The freedom discussed involved: one young man’s desire to be self-reliant; another was a young woman gaining self-confidence so as to be free from criticism by herself and others; a third dealt with the burgeoning sport of parkour or “freerunning” in essence a sport involving the body being free as possible in its movement; and finally, freedom that of which we normally think, as experienced by a Little League baseball team that got a chance to come to America and play in a tournament and meet new friends.

In these ways and surely in others, freedom speaks to each of us. With it, we are able to control much of what happens to us and what we experience. Everyone has said at one point or another, “I want the freedom to do what I want.” Whether that applies to school or sports or to a career, it all comes down to a spirit of adventure, accountability, and actualization. Sport has been a way for people to achieve their own sense of freedom and that reality will, thankfully, surely continue.

Other stories we are featuring this week include: an offshoot of baseball that has found a home in Finland; a football scout turned coach teaching the American game to some eager recruits in Italy; future Hall of Fame baseball player Ken Griffey Jr. talking about his role and perspective when it comes to youth sports; the very successful Times Square Cup hosted by the good folks at Street Soccer USA; the success of a second division soccer team in Spain; and the compelling road being traveled by the basketball coach and players of a small high school in New York City.

Finally, we would like to present again items first featured last week. First, The Giving Back Fund is hosting its 6th Annual Sports and Entertainment Philanthropy Summit on Saturday, July 25th at LA Live.  They are offering subscribers to Sports Doing Good a $100 discount.  You can attend the Summit for $399 using discount code:  GBFDISCOUNT.  You can register and learn more about this terrific event at:

Second, George Washington University is now accepting applications for its industry-leading program in sports and philanthropy. This is a program with a stellar curriculum and equally impressive faculty. The early bird registration period ends August 26, while the overall enrollment deadline is October 21. You can find more information at

Please continue to send along your stories. You are both our audience and our best source of stories. Our Twitter handle is @sportsdoinggood, and you can find us at

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So enjoy. And have a good week.

How Teen With Cerebral Palsy Inspired Nike Shoe For Those With Special Needs (w/ video)
Fast-forward three years and Nike is prepared to bring the first official product to market. Keeping Walzer’s love for LeBron James and sneakers in mind, the first shoe to release with the technology is the Nike LeBron Soldier 8. Walzer received his official pair of the shoes a few weeks back and — met LeBron. “Matthew inspired us at Nike to be able to bring something special that will not only be for himself but also for the masses,” LeBron says in a Nike release. “The shoe and the inspiration he gave us is going to go way beyond Nike, Matthew and myself. I am very honored and blessed that my shoe is part of the whole process. This is an unbelievable story, and Nike has done a great job of being able to create something that’s so incredible and will last a lifetime.” Although it created the Flyease for Walzer, Nike know it can serve a broader audience. The system will allow thousands of individuals that face challenges putting on their shoes to do something that may have thought would never happen.

What Finland Can Teach America About Baseball
It is no coincidence that pesäpallo has remained widely popular among young people in Finland. Pesäpallo officials cited 2008 research showing it as the most popular school sport for girls and the second most popular for boys, behind ice hockey. Whereas baseball loses many of the best American athletes to other sports, the Finnish version does the opposite. “Some people think pesäpallo is a cancer, because it takes the best athletes from other sports,” said Ossi Savolainen, head of the Finnish Baseball Association. The speed of the game isn’t the only reason. Unlike American baseball, which has become too expensive for some families, the Finnish version has emerged as a cheaper alternative to hockey and soccer. From the top men’s and women’s divisions to small, rural youth teams, the entire sport is run like a nonprofit. It relies on a combination of local government funding and widespread volunteerism, from coaches to concessions workers.

While baseball is losing its grip on young people in some parts of the world, Finland’s more active version of the sport is vibrant. Photo: AKE ERICSON FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

An American in Milano
As intense as the rivalry is between these teams, there’s an underlying camaraderie among American football players in Italy. Between downs late in the game, the Rhinos right guard was helping to stretch the hamstring of the Seamen nose tackle. After the game finishes, the Rhinos make three salutes in Italian: for their opponent, for the 2,000 fans at the velodrome and for themselves. Then something happens that you’d never see in the United States. The two teams, the Rhinos and the Seamen, drape their arms around each other and take a photograph together. But the sting of missing the Super Bowl permeates the air. “It’s burning inside,” wails Kevin Khay, a 21-year-old outside linebacker who dreams of playing the sport in America. “We played very well, but I want a Super Bowl. I’m sorry, but I want a Super Bowl.” When the Rhinos gather together on the velodrome field, the defensive back who slipped on the last drive throws himself in front of the team frantically. He’s speaking in Italian, but a teammate translates: This is on me. I’m going to work from tomorrow to be better. His apology is met by a chorus of protests from his teammates. No! No! No! Bommarito steps in front of the players, too. He speaks slowly, and calmly. “You fought to the end,” he says. “It didn’t just happen. Your hearts, and how big they are, was the reason we got here. Hold your heads high, and be proud. Because you are Rhinos.”

Joe Bommarito spent much of his time coaching technique to the offensive lineman. (Jenny Vrentas/The MMQB)

Mariners great Ken Griffey Jr. shares his perspective on parents’ roles in youth sports
Griffey’s take: Young kids will eventually learn about the importance of winning. For now, the bigger priority should be to enjoy the sport while they still can. “This is one of the things that I explain to parents: 20 years from now, if they win a Pop Warner Super Bowl, they’re not going to have a reunion, they’re not going to have a party, a parade,” he said. “They’re probably going to have kids of their own and they’re going to be doing the same things, going to their events. So you want to make it as fun and as positive as possible for these kids at this age.” He added: “I tell them all the time, and I tell parents all the time: There’s no shoe deal, there’s no glove deal, there’s no bat deal, there’s no uniform, there’s no contract. If (they’re) smiling, it’s because they love the sport, and that’s what you have to keep remembering. One percent of one percent make it to the highest level, but if they’re smiling, going to practice and want to go to practice, you should enjoy that, and the pressure that you put on them is to keep that youth.”

Ken Griffey Jr., pictured with his son, said youth sports should be more about having fun than winning. (AP)

Boston University Female Powerlifter: ‘I’m Not Strong for a Girl – I’m Just Strong’ (w/ video)
Now the athlete – who can do a 300-lb. squat – is hoping to inspire other women to love their bodies. “I think that there’s something about being muscular that gives me a certain sort of power of taking up space in a room – making you feel like you can take up space in life, at work, in any circumstance,” she says. “It’s amazing, and I’d really like to help other women feel that way too.” Her one piece of advice for women struggling with body image: “Do not let your weight define you. Do not let the size of your clothes define you. Do not let how much weight you lift define you. Define yourself. Love yourself.”

Young Afghans find freedom through freerunning flips
Parkour has thousands of loyal followers and practitioners around the world, but it remains rare in Afghanistan. Zahidi and his friends discovered it on the internet and taught themselves through online tutorials — and this new-found passion brought them together. They started training together five years ago and now practise every day. Zahidi, a student, said he took his inspiration from Frenchman David Belle, regarded as the pioneer of parkour. Leaping around the rusting shell of an old bus, throwing giddying backflips from its roof is 19-year-old Ali Amiri, who used to do gymnastics before discovering parkour. With the international troop presence in Afghanistan falling fast, the future direction of Afghan society is uncertain after the tumultuous experiences of recent years. For some Islamic clerics, the end of NATO’s war is a chance to re-establish traditional values and end the baleful influence of the West. But Amiri says he hopes parkour can help to keep Afghanistan on a progressive track.

Street Soccer USA’s Third Annual Times Square Cup Brings Awareness to Growing Homelessness Trend
As the only team sport event hosted in the heart of Manhattan, the goal was to bring attention to Street Soccer USA’s sport for social change programs expanding across the “Big Apple” and throughout America to support homeless and at-risk youth and adults. Currently, 22,000 children are homeless in New York City. “This event raises awareness through soccer as a vehicle to help build a support system, teaching invaluable life skills that will help homeless regain employment, housing and relationships,” says Carlos Menchaca, New York City Council Member. “We are proud to support Street Soccer USA and look forward to seeing a positive impact in our community.”… 32 teams (ages 16 and older) competed in front of 125,000 spectators throughout the day in a pop-up stadium on the 42nd/43rd St. Plaza in New York City. Also, 10 youth and adult teams from SSUSA’s social programs participated in the tournament. Each team was outfitted in inspirational jerseys by leading apparel brand UNIQLO. SSUSA’s messaging was highlighted through custom crests on jerseys that define why program participants play the game.

New York City’s Department of Homeless Services, UNIQLO, New York Cosmos, TAG Heuer Rally Support for At-Risk Youth, Adults

Cuban youth baseball team cherishes playing at Disney for first time
Noel Tortoló said the Habaneros are the first community team from Cuba to compete in a tournament in the United States since 1948. “The main result is to arrive here by our own, because we are here without government support,” Tortoló said. After this tournament, the Habaneros plan to travel to Chicago. On the itinerary: playing against another youth team, a visit with Cuban-born White Sox players Jose Abreu and Alexei Ramirez, and — if all goes well — attending a White Sox-Cubs game Sunday at Wrigley Field. “It’s an honor,” Noé Tortoló said. “We really like this country. It’s nice. Everybody’s respectful.” On Wednesday, a Habaneros pitcher hit a Panamanian batter with a pitch on the shoulder. As the boy sat at home plate in pain, the pitcher checked on his condition and shook his hand. Good will is spreading. And contagious.

The miracle of Sporting Gijon; The remarkable story of one of Spanish football’s most unlikely promotions.
There were tears of joy, and smiles, on and off the field. Quini, recently recovered from illness, was one of them. Luis Enrique was on the top of Barcelona’s celebration bus when he heard the news. David Villa had to pull the car over in New York because he wasn’t in a fit state to drive. The fans meanwhile had a giant screen set up in the middle of Gijon, and exploded in unison. The promotion had been a fight from day one and was built on raw emotion and passion. Playing for your local club. The one you went to as a kid to train, and the one you went and saw play on a weekend. Imagine then, restoring the name of that club to the highest possible level in Spain. The squad, average of 23, youngest being Jorge Mere of just 17-years-old when he debuted, did exactly that. The message to all the players from Abelardo has been clear all season, he said so in nearly every press conference. “We have the opportunity to live a dream”. That opportunity has been taken, that dream is now reality.

A Long Hardwood Journey
Skelton harbors a conviction bordering on religious belief that he can sell his teenage boys on the beauty of basketball well played. Just maybe, in the 2014-15 season, they would compete for that championship again in March. He invited me to chronicle their journey. “One of the thrills of coaching is trying to rebuild the boat while in the middle of the sea with the ballast shifting,” he said, smiling at his overwrought metaphor. “The other possibility is the crew gets rickets and we capsize.” Skelton has turned the corner on 40 years old. A social studies teacher, he learned Russian while with the Peace Corps in Moldova. He adores Dostoyevsky and Gogol and teaches a spring class at Fannie Lou in Russian history: Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great and all that. He also loves Herman Melville, from whose port his nautical metaphors take sail. To pursue the championships is to “harpoon the whale,” Skelton said. His teenage players don’t always understand him. They do drink in his passion and vow to achieve playoff glory.

Players from Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the Bronx gathered at midcourt before a game in January. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

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