The BIG Vision Foundation, a nonprofit organization which manages and maintains the BIG Vision Sports Complex in Berks County, Pennsylvania, realizes that it’s part of the now over $9 billion youth travel sports industry, but for this organization, it’s not about the money.
One of the three pillars of the BIG Vision Foundation mission is to “promote volunteerism and giving back.”
With that pillar in mind the organization developed its “Work Hard, Play Hard” program, in which players provide community service hours by helping to maintain the complex and helping other local non-profit organizations as opposed to paying a registration fee.
Inspired by an episode of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on HBO that aired in August of 2017, BIG Vision Foundation President, Dan Clouser got a crazy idea of eliminating player registration fees for the organizations youth baseball and softball teams.
Hearing the figure that “Youth Sports Tourism” is now a $9 billion industry and growing was no surprise to Clouser. However, what resonated even more with him was hearing the fact that participation in youth sports was actually on the decline.
“We changed what sports was meant to be. Instead of being one of the few venues in which an individual could excel solely on his or her talents, we were now making it about money,” Clouser said. “We were making travel sports into something that only mid-upper-class kids could participate in.”
“In the fall of 2017, we took eight suburban white kids and seven inner-city Latino kids and used this little white sphere as their common denominator. We told them to shut out all of the noise from our society that points out your differences and use this ball as the start of what you have in common and then find out what else you have in common,” Clouser said.
The team gelled and the players built a bond that lasted long beyond the playing field. With that, the “Work Hard, Play Hard” program was born, and in 2018, the organization fielded eight very diverse youth baseball and softball teams, none of which charged registration fees. The concept is that if you instill the characteristics of volunteering and giving back to the community into a young person and expose to them to different cultures, that as they become young adults, staying involved in the community and being well-rounded comes as second nature.
“The ripple effects of this program can stretch far beyond our community for many years to come,” Clouser concluded. “It’s more than just a game.”