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Sports columnist to speak on how youth baseball builds community

September 11th, 2017

by Melanie Zuercher

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Kauffman Museum’s Living Endowment Dinner is designed to give people food for thought as well as their taste buds.

This annual major fundraiser for the museum, located on the Bethel College campus, takes place Nov. 8 in the museum, starting at 6:30 p.m., but reservations are due by or before Nov. 3.

For more information or to make reservation, contact Andi Schmidt Andres at or 316-283-1612.

“It’s not a strict rule, but we often try to invite a Living Endowment Dinner speaker who in some way enhances the theme of the current special exhibit,” said Annette LeZotte, Kauffman Museum director.

And that’s the case this year, with well-known sports writer and columnist Bob Lutz to speak on the topic of how sports build community.

Kauffman Museum’s special exhibit, which will be in place through June 5, 2016, is “Root for the Home Team: Building Community Through Sports.”

Lutz has been writing about sports for the Wichita Eagle for nearly 41 years – as a columnist since 1996. And in 2014, he founded League 42 (the name reflects Jackie Robinson’s number), a nonprofit, urban baseball league in Wichita for all children regardless of financial resources.

Because of the special exhibit’s topic, LeZotte said, “we were interested in inviting a sports person to speak. We were looking for someone who could put a more personal, local spin on the topic. We’ve had lots of opportunities to hear academic presentations.”

“Root for the Home Team” is part of a statewide “Hometown Teams” project spurred by a traveling Smithsonian exhibit and the Kansas Humanities Council. Funding from the KHC has allowed several convocation presenters to come to campus this fall to speak on sports-related research, with topics ranging from Mexican-American fast-pitch softball to the Kansas Jayhawks and the 1936 Olympics.

“What’s unique about Bob Lutz is how he’s using sports as social outreach, a social justice enterprise, while he also has wide experience with other sports [in addition to baseball] in his career,” LeZotte said.

“Club sports is getting so expensive, it’s excluding children,” Andi Schmidt Andres, Kauffman Museum curator of education, pointed out.

“[Lutz] saw a need, a way to build community and address income inequality through sports, and he did something,” LeZotte added.

She also explained that, though Lutz probably doesn’t know this, he was an important contributor to the special exhibition that came before “Root for the Home Team” – “Sorting Out Race,” which looked at racial identity and stereotypes as seen in thrift-store donations.

“The reason I suggested Bob Lutz as a speaker was because of two columns he wrote about the Wichita North High Redskins mascot,” she said. In the first column, Lutz, a North High graduate, defended the retention of the mascot. The second one, written years later, in 2014, reflected a 180-degree turn in that position.

“This was someone who considered the issue and articulated it well,” LeZotte said. “His [2014] column was instrumental in shaping the module on the controversy over sports mascots from ‘Sorting Out Race.’

“Even though this isn’t his topic for the Living Endowment Dinner, it makes me think he gets the concept behind ‘Hometown Teams’ and ‘Root for the Home Team.’ This exhibit is not just about sports – it’s about how sports build communities.”

League 42 got started in 2013, after Lutz posed a question on his Facebook page asking whether anyone would be interested in supporting a baseball league for Wichita youth.

“I have felt for a lot of years that kids in Wichita’s inner city weren’t getting the opportunity to play baseball that kids in the suburbs do,” he told the Wichita Eagle.

In summer 2014, League 42 had 16 teams with 220 players. By this past summer, it had nearly doubled in size – 29 teams and more than 400 players, ranging in age from 5 to 14.

League 42 has the support of community organizations such as Boys and Girls Club of South Central Kansas, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Northeast Optimist Club, along with the city of Wichita, which agreed to let the league use the two fields on the north end of McAdams Park.

Newton’s Sand Creek Station Golf Course played host to a Wichita State Baseball Alumni tournament Oct. 16 to benefit League 42. You can learn more on League 42’s Facebook page.

League 42 joined forces with theBaltimore-based Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, which has as its main mission the same as League 42’s: to bring baseball to disadvantaged kids and use that platform to help youth develop life skills.

“This is about more than baseball,” Lutz told the Eagle. “It’s about life, about mentoring. Baseball is the tool that we’re using to develop relationships.

“There are social aspects of League 42 that go far beyond the game.”

Reservations are required for Kauffman Museum’s Living Endowment Dinner, with a due date of Nov. 3. Cost for the dinner and program is $125. Attendees will receive a $100 gift receipt for the portion that is tax-deductible.

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.