Getting Kids in the Game

While some kids spend the summer before their freshman year of high school away at camp, Matthew McCall spent his summer planning one.

McCall’s baseball camp, Matt’s Bats, gave around 20 kids the chance to play in the sun and enjoy baseball tips from professionals at the Johnny Oates Baseball Field at Mercy Street Sports Complex July 25.

The idea came when McCall, an incoming Highland Park High School freshman, was asked to host a children’s sports camp for Brother Bill’s Helping Hand, an organization that provides medical services, work training, and donations to West Dallas families in need.

McCall and his family had been volunteering for the organization about six months when assistant director Adair Neely suggested Matt host a basketball or soccer camp. McCall instead proposed a baseball camp, a sport he has played for five years.

“He came to us about ideas and we said, ‘We’d love if you’d do a sports camp,’” Neely said. “He has done a phenomenal job. I mean, I’m surprised he’s not even in high school yet.”

McCall said that he had been planning the camp for a month officially, but that ideas had been running through his mind for the last six months.

“All the campers were a little bit hesitant, but Adair really helped to say, like, ‘Hey this is a fun camp, you should go try it,’” McCall said. “That really drove up our campers.”

The first plan of action was to recruit coaches for the camp. Matt Hinds, a former head coach at D-BAT baseball and softball training center, was one of the first on board. Hinds coached McCall when he played for Heroes, a baseball organization founded by Dallas Mavericks player Dirk Nowitzki.

“What better way to teach the game that we all love to inner city kids, and I thought it was just a great idea,” said Hinds, who lent D-BAT equipment and coaches to help out at the camp. “I’ve really been proud that he’s continued to develop his game, and I think it’s awesome that D-BAT had a hand in that.”

McCall was also able to recruit former Detroit Tigers second baseman John Knox, who coached Matt for a year when he played for the Highland Park Scots.

“Baseball’s a game like everything today where it’s becoming more specialized. Having been a Boy Scout, these are the kind of things I think that really can help,” said Knox, an Eagle Scout himself. “It’s great to see kids involved in the game of baseball.”

Dennis Kelley, assistant baseball coach at St. Mark’s School of Texas, also helped McCall prepare for the camp, but was not able to attend.

“Baseball is more of a thinking sport for me and it’s really fun to just see where everything is and plan everything out,” McCall said. “And as a catcher I’m the one that coordinates the field, and so it’s fun for me to see where everything is.”

McCall started out by selling doughnuts in front of local stores to fund the camp. But after stores like Academy Sports & Outdoors and Sam’s Club donated store credit, McCall found himself with a cooler, drinks, and equipment for campers. Chick-fil-A also lent a hand by providing the lunches.

“What was I guess the most impressive thing to me, besides Matt’s blossoming, is the amount of people that were willing to help,” said Matt’s dad, Alden McCall. “We were selling doughnuts in front of Sam’s and there were a lot of people who said, ‘You know what, I don’t need doughnuts, but here’s 20 dollars.’”

Matt was able to present Brother Bill’s Helping Hand with a $615 check from the donations left over after the camp costs.

“Seeing all the smiles on all the kids’ faces was my favorite part, because they wouldn’t be able to go to a camp like this otherwise,” Matt said after the camp was over. “The whole experience was just amazing. I wish I could do it with more kids to see more smiles.”

The camp moves Matt closer to achieving his Eagle Scout badge, which most do not earn until their late teens. He expects to earn his badge in October.

“I worked really hard in the first three ranks that require you to have any merit badges, so I got all of those within about a year,” Matt said.

Matt said he already has ideas for a larger, three-day camp during spring break that could get more kids involved.

“The biggest thing that I’m impressed with is how capable he really is,” McCall said. “He has been completely turned loose on organizing and planning and running and recruiting on his own, and so it’s impressive to me to sit back and watch it all happening.”

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