The World Baseball Academy’s plan to extensively renovate and expand the ASH Centre fieldhouse and surrounding diamonds deserves close consideration from city leaders awarding grants from the Legacy Fort Wayne Fund. The project would fulfill not only their goal of making Fort Wayne a youth sports destination but also the more important goal of increasing sports and mentoring opportunities for local children.
Earlier this year, Mayor Tom Henry’s administration announced the city will spend up to $200,000 from the Legacy Fund to pay for a Youth Sports Community Assessment and Market Potential study. The city hired Aquarius Sports and Entertainment to conduct the study, which began in June and is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
The goal of the study was to develop a strategy for making Fort Wayne a nationally and regionally recognized destination for youth/prep sports and strengthening the youth/prep sports tourism market.
At the time, an editorial in The Journal Gazette argued the study’s goals should be broadened to include a focus on programs that increase the opportunities to use sports for character- and skill-building for local children as well as projects that might encourage tourism.
Caleb Kimmel, executive director with the World Baseball Academy, said he thinks his program has the right balance of serving as an economic development tool as well as an opportunity to mentor local children through baseball. The academy provides experienced coaches who work with nearly 1,000 local children to improve their baseball skills. The coaches also act as mentors who emphasize building core character traits such as integrity, discipline, hard work and perseverance.
The programs are designed for children of any ability level as long as they have an interest in baseball, Kimmel said. The academy has programs to offer individual training to young athletes with strong skills. It also partners with several other local nonprofits that serve children, including Charis House, Erin’s House for Grieving Children, The Euell A. Wilson Center and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne, to provide scholarships for children who would otherwise not be able to afford the academy’s services.
The biggest thing I can say is the impact is real, said Amos Norman, director of operations for the Boys and Girls Clubs and a World Baseball Academy board member. Seeing the kids grow and believe they can be something great. I can take a vanload of kids over there and know that they are not only getting top-quality instruction but also that leadership piece.
The World Baseball Academy is quietly working to raise $6.5 million to improve the ASH Centre’s 26-acre campus. The plan calls for renovating the fieldhouse and three existing baseball diamonds with artificial turf infields. It also includes adding a new collegiate-sized field, which would also serve as the home field for the University of Saint Francis.
Kimmel suggests that the improvements would not only allow the academy to expand its baseball tournament programs to attract thousands of people to the area but also allow the non-profit to continue to serve local children. He said Visit Fort Wayne estimates the academy already has an annual economic effect of $1 million.
Right now we are only at 30 percent of our tournament capacity, Kimmel said. If we can get updates to the ASH Centre, we could triple our capacity. That’s why the city is interested in it because of the economic development opportunity here.
The academy received positive feedback when it shared the proposal with the Legacy committee more than a year ago. But its efforts have remained in a holding pattern while waiting for the study results.
We’re very confident that this is a community need and that we would be good stewards of it, Kimmel said.
Kimmel and his supporters make a strong case, and city leaders will soon see whether the study results confirm Kimmel’s argument that their project is worthy of Legacy support.