Focus on values pays off for interfaith baseball team

May 28, 2013

An interfaith Babe Ruth League baseball team that emphasizes practicing good values was rewarded last Sunday with what the parent of one player called the “experience of a lifetime” — playing at Nationals Park in the District.

FCA Power, a team based in western Loudoun County, earned the opportunity to play at the park by placing among the top four teams in a fundraising contest sponsored by Kyle’s Kamp, an organization that raises money for pediatric cancer research and care at Children’s National Medical Center. The team finished in second place by raising $21,965.

The campaign was a natural fit for FCA Power, which is sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The team places a strong emphasis on values such as faith, ethics, teamwork, sportsmanship and community service.

Raising money for pediatric cancer research and care had special meaning for the team because of one player’s experience with childhood cancer. Coach Marty Hile said that his son Clark, a member of the team, had leukemia diagnosed nine years ago, when he was 4, and has been in remission for six years. When the team was looking for a community service project, Hile suggested that the team compete in the Kyle’s Kamp competition as a way to give back to the community.

Team manager Jeff Payne said that the players embraced the challenge. “We thought it sounded perfect,” he said. “They were like, ‘We’ve got to be one of those top four teams.’ ”

The team members “know Clark’s situation, and it made it very meaningful for them,” Hile said. “The fact that they were raising money for kids with cancer was even more important to them than playing the game” at Nationals Park.

Clark Hile, a devoted Nationals fan who pitches and plays shortstop for FCA Power, said he was very excited about playing on the same field as the Nationals and his favorite player, shortstop Ian Desmond.

FCA Power competes in the 13-and-younger category in the Greater Loudoun Babe Ruth League and the Northern Virginia Travel Baseball League. Most of the players live in western Loudoun, coaches said. The team opens and closes practices and games with prayer; its motto is, “Lose with grace, win with humility.”

“I think we do a good job of that,” Hile said. “They understand that sometimes they don’t play well, but it’s just a baseball game, and there will be another one. They keep things in perspective pretty well.”

Payne said that when he was organizing the team last summer, he decided to seek FCA sponsorship, because his oldest child had “a great experience” playing on an FCA team a few years ago.

“They don’t tell you how to run the team,” he said. “One of the things that attracted me to FCA is that it provides a level, a standard for how we should act . . . which I hope the kids do, and all the coaches hold each other to.”

Although the team is sponsored by a Christian organization, it includes a Muslim player, Jibreel Jaka, 13.

“He’s a great kid, and I definitely wanted him to be involved,” said Payne, who had coached Jibreel in Little League. “I was interested to hear what [Jibreel’s parents] would say, because I knew they were Muslim.” He said he found that Jibreel’s parents were “big believers in inclusiveness and thinking about God and faith in more of an interfaith perspective. So it really turned out not to be a big issue at all.”

Jibreel’s father, Rizwan Jaka, said, “We really liked the coach and we really liked the concept of good sportsmanship.” Jaka is a board member of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington and the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAM) mosque. “We thought that it would be a great thing. The fact that they open and close with prayer is a bonus.”

The team members and their families raised money through bake sales and raffles, and by contacting friends, family members, business associates and churches, family members said. Starla Olsen said her son Zach donated his signed Robert Griffin III jersey and the family donated a signed Ryan Zimmerman baseball as raffle prizes.

Jibreel was the team’s leading fundraiser, bringing in $2,782. Jaka said that his son made oatmeal bars and sold them along with farm-fresh eggs at mosques in Sterling and Ashburn. He also e-mailed contacts in the interfaith community and received donations from a variety faith groups, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Baha’i congregations, Jaka said.

Playing the game at Nationals Park was a fantastic experience, coaches and parents said. FCA Power played another Loudoun team, Falcons 2018 of Ashburn, the first-place finisher in the Kyle’s Kamp fundraising competition. Although FCA Power lost the game, the final score did not dampen the team’s enthusiasm.

“To tell you the truth, I wasn’t paying attention to the score,” Marty Hile said. “The game meant a lot more to us than a win or a loss.”

“For Clark, it was the experience of a lifetime,” he said. “He may never get the chance to play on a major league field again. To be able to play on his favorite team’s field, where his favorite player plays, meant the world to him.”

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