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What Will Your Legacy Be?

John Clark, Director, U.S. Marshals Service, Arlington, Virginia

hen Cal Ripken Jr. ended his 21-year run with the Baltimore Orioles, many wondered what would be next on the superstar’s plate. Never one to shy away from challenges, Cal Jr. dived headfirst into the grand vision he shared with his brother, 12-year Major League Baseball veteran Bill Ripken: spreading their father’s love for the game of baseball worldwide. With their planning under way, the brothers realized that the passion for the game they loved was only a small part of their larger mission: a desire to honor their father’s legacy by impacting kids from all circumstances.

“When my family started the foundation, in honor of our dad, our main goal was to have a positive impact on youths in communities in need. The foundation has experienced wonderful growth, and partners like the International Association of Chiefs of Police make that possible. Steve Laurent, Neil O’Leary, and James DiPaola are three officers that have shown a strong commitment to helping kids, and I appreciate how they have embraced the message of the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation.”
—Cal Ripken Jr., Vice Chair, Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation, Baltimore, Maryland

“The United States Marshals Service has been honored to join forces with the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation to promote the agency’s core values of justice, integrity, and service through the Badges for Baseball program. The most important component of the program is the relationships we’re building between children and law enforcement as mentors. Many of the kids that we serve don’t have role models, and the deputy marshals teach the children about what it means to make good choices while showing them how to resist gangs, drugs, and temptations of criminal activity. As a law enforcement professional, when I see youngsters turn the right way—go the Ripken way—I know then that they’re going to be good citizens. It’s time to step up to the plate for kids, and that’s what we’re doing.”
—John Clark, Director, U.S. Marshals Service, Arlington, Virginia

Cal Ripken Sr. dedicated his life to kids by reaching out to all types of youth, regardless of talent or circumstance. Cal Jr. and Bill remember fondly how they would “steal time with Dad” on Saturdays in neighborhood parks and fields in small towns and cities while Cal Sr. coached youth from the local community on baseball fundamentals, all the while instilling the work ethic now synonymous with the Ripken name on everyone he coached. Whether it was a local kid in the neighborhood, a future professional athlete, or anyone in between, Cal Sr. taught them how “baseball is just a walk of life, and everything you do in this game you do in life.” For example, each time youths hit a bucket of balls, it was their responsibility to go and pick them up, showing respect for anyone who might follow them in the batting cage or on the field. Also, it was better to take 20 ground balls the right way, developing good habits, than to take 100 the wrong way and develop bad habits. Just as in life, Cal Sr. told his protégés, individuals need to show respect to those around them and develop good life and work habits. For Cal Sr., each baseball fundamental could be linked to a life skill fundamental.

As a man who believed if you could touch it, you could fix it or change it, Cal Sr. left a legacy of his desire to serve all children by helping to build the Boys & Girls Club in his hometown. Did he just lend his respected name to fund-raisers and charity appearances? No, Cal Sr. literally helped to lay brick and sod and hammer nails at the new facility. To him, it wasn’t about fame or heroism. As Cal Jr. and Bill fondly recall when they talk about their dad, it was “just what you do.” Many years after Cal Sr. had hammered the last nail at the Boys & Girls Club, Cal Jr. and Bill honor their Dad the best way they know how: by sharing a love of baseball and a respect for the value of life with youth across the country through the work of the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation.

With their vision in mind and an unbending spirit of iron, the Ripken family set out to bring the teachings of their father to a new generation. In 2001, the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation was created with the intent of using baseball- and softball-themed programs to help youth in the United States’ most underserved areas develop character and find avenues to success. While Cal Sr. believed in fixing what you could touch, by physically laying brick and sod at a facility to serve youth, Cal Jr. and Bill have a larger vision. They want to align themselves with others who share their vision, passion, and desire to serve youth and have a lasting impact and legacy spreading far beyond their town or community.

Since 2003, the foundation has provided millions of dollars in grants and has served more than 745,000 youth, and, in 2006, Cal Jr. and Bill helped push its mission forward with two programs that today form the cornerstone of all of the foundation’s work across the country. First, the life lessons Cal Sr. taught each day on the field were put on paper when the foundation unveiled the Healthy Choices, Healthy Children character education program. Shortly after, Badges for Baseball was born. Badges for Baseball is an innovative approach to juvenile crime prevention that aims to reshape the perceptions many youth have toward law enforcement. One of the tenants of the Ripken Way passed on from Cal Sr. to his sons and now to youth-serving organizations nationwide is to “keep it simple.” The Badges for Baseball program takes a simple concept: bring police officers and kids together to play, learn, and communicate. The result of this simple concept can help to bridge the gap between law enforcement and young people in at-risk communities in cities across the country. A community can begin to come together on a ball field, where youths can learn the basics of baseball and of life from adult law enforcement mentors. Rather than being seen as enemies, law enforcement officers become known as coaches, mentors, friends, and teammates. This is crime prevention at its core, teaching youths vital life lessons, setting goals for their futures, and showing them that they, too, have the power to do great things. As Robbie Callaway, chairman of the foundation’s board of directors, said, “It is our goal that these programs translate into new beginnings and positive futures for the thousands of young people we serve each year.”

Newport News Police Department Officer Steve Laurent

While the communities may look different, the statistics may be different, and the immediate needs different, one thing remains constant: the youths. Unfortunately, far too many children are left with no place to go and nothing to occupy those hours between 3 p.m. when schools let out and 8 p.m. when it becomes dark and is time to return home. In Newport News, Virginia, the police department observed many children looking for something to occupy their time after school. Officer Steve Laurent was one of the first volunteers to sign up when asked to participate in the new Badges for Baseball program at his local Boys & Girls Club; that was three years ago.

Just like many of his peers, Officer Laurent had wanted to help and was looking for an entryway into how to protect and serve his community through the youths he saw each day during his patrol. “I saw the Badges for Baseball program as that chance to get into my community, meet youths, and help bridge a gap in the neighborhood between my department and the people we are here to protect,” Laurent said. “While we speak of crime prevention and serving our community, it is not as easy as just walking into a place where youths are and saying, ‘Look at me, listen to me.’ I learned quickly that it was a process that would take patience and a commitment. I had to lay a foundation with the youths, step by step.”

Just as Cal Sr. had helped to build his local Boys & Girls Club brick by brick, Officer Laurent began to bridge gaps in his community by one seemingly small act at a time:

I would go to the Boys & Girls Club and bring my Segway, hang out and play pool in the game room, or let the kids explore my police cruiser. Slowly, each seemingly small activity brought me one step closer to building a real sense of trust with the children. One of the first times I attended a baseball game, a young girl ran over to me and asked, “Are you here to keep an eye on us? Are you here for security?” I said, “No, I am just here to watch the game.” They no longer ask these questions when I show up in uniform to watch a game, or stop by to play ping-pong at the club. Now they know I am just there to support and encourage them. Through the programming provided by the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation, I have had the opportunity to work with kids in my community. I have seen youths deemed “at risk” choose to go to baseball practice instead of hanging out on the street corners.

Now affectionately known on the baseball field and at the Boys & Girls Club as “Old Faithful,” Officer Laurent has mentored countless youths by simply continuing to show up, by making a commitment to his community, and by having the power to impact boys and girls both on and off the baseball field. The Badges for Baseball program has afforded Officer Laurent the privilege of watching children and teens make the transition into not only great baseball players, but also great people and leaders in Newport News.

Waterbury Police Department Chief Neil O’Leary

About 500 miles north of Newport News, Virginia, located in the heart of a city formerly known as the “Brass Capital of the World” is a place of learning, both in the traditional classroom setting and many nontraditional, activity-based settings. The Waterbury, Connecticut, Police Activity League (PAL) aims to provide positive support to children so they can achieve their goals and become productive, responsible members of the community. The need is great, and the statistics don’t lie: more than 60 percent of PAL families live below the poverty line, including 46 percent who have a family annual income of less than $10,286.

A leader in his community, Chief of Police Neil O’Leary has helped to build the Waterbury PAL into a model of inner-city police prevention and service. Since Chief O’Leary was named chief of police in 2003, membership at the Waterbury PAL has increased from 100 youths to more than 1,900 in 2007. Just as Cal Sr. taught, Chief O’Leary passes on the belief that “every child deserves an opportunity to realize their potential. It is amazing to watch these kids grow, learn, and develop confidence. They are the leaders of tomorrow.”

Chief O’Leary said:

At PAL, we are always looking for innovative and fun programs to engage more kids. When I learned of the Badges for Baseball and Healthy Choices, Healthy Children programs, the link with our organization was so natural. We have seen these programs bring youths onto the softball field and provide baseball teams with much-needed new equipment from the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation, and, as a result, we have seen a demonstrable reduction in crime and improvement in the quality of life for Waterbury citizens and neighboring communities as a direct result of these programs.

With strong leadership in Waterbury, Chief O’Leary has built the Waterbury PAL into a place where kids want to be each day. “My officers are committed to the Badges for Baseball program and even more so to the hundreds of youths who pour into our PAL center to play any of the sports we offer,” he said. “These same youths, if not given a safe place or fun and engaging activity, might otherwise join so many of their peers in our detention programs. By giving them opportunities to choose positive activities, we are building a community of prevention, not detention.”

Chief O’Leary recently retired from the Waterbury Police Department. Just as Cal Jr. and Bill help to inspire mentors to honor their father’s legacy, Chief O’Leary has inspired those tasked to protect and serve Waterbury to build the community of crime prevention. By reaching young people before they meet law enforcement in the back of a trooper car, PAL officers teach youths that they have choices to make each day that will impact their lives for years to come.

Middlesex County Sheriff’s Department Sheriff James V. DiPaola

Just up the road in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, Sheriff James DiPaola has passed on his passion to serve the community to his deputies and the children he calls his “young cadets.” Said Sheriff DiPaola:

When I was a young boy growing up in Malden, Massachusetts, my friends and I were always a little curious about police officers and firefighters. As I got older, I got to know some local public safety officers. The more I learned about them, the more I looked up to them; they were my role models. When I began my career in law enforcement, I wanted to help show others how special these men and women are in communities, and how important their jobs are to the future of our cities. That is why a decade ago, as the Sheriff of Middlesex County, I launched a bold crime prevention idea: a free, summer youth public safety academy for children aged 9 to 11 years old that mixes public safety lessons with fun, energetic activities. Since its inception, the Sheriff’s Youth Public Safety Academy has helped build confidence and teamwork in thousands of young people and establish those important relationships with local law enforcement personnel. These connections help to create trust between children and public safety professionals across Middlesex County.

The Sheriff’s Youth Public Safety Academy is a weeklong program offered at no cost to residents of selected communities. Transportation, lunch, and all activities are provided by the Middlesex Sheriff's Office in conjunction with the local police, fire, and emergency services personnel. During each week, deputies, local police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians work with the young cadets to show them the importance of public safety. Activities include K9 demonstrations, fire safety house demonstrations, a fingerprinting program, police and fire department tours, bicycle safety, safe surfing on the Internet, and much more. Cadets leave the academy feeling empowered by the roles they can play in making their homes, schools, and communities safer.

Said Sheriff DiPaola:

When we partnered with the Badges for Baseball program in 2007, I was immediately struck by the similar philosophy and format. The program became an instant success and helped to provide opportunities for my young cadets during the spring after-school hours and to enhance my youth academy program throughout the summer. By bringing together children of all backgrounds, along with police, fire and sheriff’s personnel, parents, schools, volunteers, and entire communities, we have had the ability to help bridge gaps in communities across my county. For 12 weeks in the spring, our local police departments and community partners ran Ripken Quickball games in their local schools and recreation centers, inviting kids and their families into a gym for a few hours to play and learn about teamwork, leadership, and sportsmanship, as outlined in the foundation’s curriculum and capitalizing on the teachable moments in the game.

The spring season culminated with a Quickball tournament and carnival on the grounds of the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office Training Academy. That day, rain and wind could not keep the players away, as more than 400 children from 13 towns competed in Quickball games and enjoyed lunch and entertainment. Sheriffs, police officers, and deputies threw thousands of pitches to boys and girls while parents, grandparents, and the local community came to cheer the participants.

“We even had the opportunity to reward 16 great kids with a trip to the Ripken summer camp experience,” said Sheriff DiPaola. “Many of the recipients had never left Middlesex County, let alone Massachusetts. They began the trip to the camp in Maryland tentative and as individuals, but returned to the youth academy as a team: working, playing, and laughing together in the true spirit of the program.”

He added that although the exercise, sports, and life lessons the children gained are paramount, the creation of friendships and strengthening of bonds between youth and local law enforcement officers is the necessary act that will ensure local children become a healthy, successful generation of leaders.

“With programs such as Badges for Baseball and the Sheriff’s Youth Public Safety Academy, we are providing healthy alternatives to the negative temptations children face in today’s world,” Sheriff DiPaola said. “We are showcasing the all-stars of the law enforcement world to create positive role models. We are instilling values to protect America’s youth and help them grow. In law enforcement, just as in baseball, there is no substitute for being safe.”

Building a Legacy

In 2009 alone, more than 28,000 young people from 72 cities and towns in 15 states participated in the Badges for Baseball program. The Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation trained 628 law enforcement officers as coaches and mentors for the program. In each of those communities, there are men and women carrying on the legacy of Cal Sr., laying the foundation for a brighter future for boys and girls. Officer Steve Laurent, Chief Neil O’Leary, Sheriff James DiPaola, and hundreds of other mentors across the country can reach out and enact meaningful change in their communities by simply coming together at a baseball field or in a gym for a few hours after school.

IACP Recommends Badges for Baseball
The IACP governing body considered a recommendation for the IACP Community Policing Committee to endorse the “Badges for Baseball” initiative of the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation. As a result of this review, the governing body is recommending the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation and its “Badges for Baseball” initiative to the members of the IACP as a partnership opportunity to reduce crime and build relationships with the youths of their communities.
The Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation is working to expand Badges for Baseball nationwide. It currently has statewide Badges for Baseball programs in Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Carolina, Maryland, Wisconsin, and Virginia. In addition, the foundation is working to identify funding for programs in several other states in partnership with attorneys general and governors, including those in Connecticut, Maine, Florida, Arkansas, and Kentucky. The foundation works to identify resources to provide cash grants, equipment, and educational materials to support local efforts. The Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation serves as the lynchpin of collaborations that bring government, law enforcement, and community youth-serving organizations together. Communities benefit by offering at-risk children mentors and opportunities to play, learn, and grow into productive, caring citizens.

The Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation and the Badges for Baseball program has afforded Cal Jr. and Bill the means to honor their father by finding willing mentors who teach the lessons of teamwork, respect, and work ethic that their father taught to baseball players young and old throughout his life. While Cal Jr. and Bill cannot directly serve the 28,000 youths involved in the program, they can pass on their vision and provide the opportunity for law enforcement mentors and communities to carry on a legacy bigger than themselves to children who may never meet the Ripken family. ■

Please cite as:

John Clark, "What Will Your Legacy Be?" The Police Chief 77 (June 2010): 60–62, (insert access date).



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVII, no. 6, June 2010. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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