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Good Sports teaches baseball, values

On a Friday morning in early August, about 50 local children gathered behind an elementary school in Devínska Nová Ves, on the outskirts of Bratislava. They began arriving well before 8:00, even though their coaches wouldn't arrive until 8:30. They drifted in by twos and threes: brothers and sisters, cousins, friends, and neighbors. They would remain for the whole day, with a one-hour break for lunch. They streamed to the fields to learn America's national pastime, baseball. "This is my first week ever playing baseball," said Veronika Záhradníková, 10. "My mom is happy there is baseball for me here near my home."


America's pastime is catching on with Slovakia's youth.
Courtesy of Good Sports

On a Friday morning in early August, about 50 local children gathered behind an elementary school in Devínska Nová Ves, on the outskirts of Bratislava. They began arriving well before 8:00, even though their coaches wouldn't arrive until 8:30. They drifted in by twos and threes: brothers and sisters, cousins, friends, and neighbors. They would remain for the whole day, with a one-hour break for lunch.

They streamed to the fields to learn America's national pastime, baseball. "This is my first week ever playing baseball," said Veronika Záhradníková, 10. "My mom is happy there is baseball for me here near my home."

This past summer, dedicated volunteers used baseball to teach values such as self-respect, individual worth and teamwork to Slovak children and help keep them out of trouble. Their fast-growing program, called "Good Sports," is the channel for this message, featuring week-long baseball camps for almost 800 Slovak kids that ran from June through August.

"We want to teach high-quality baseball in Slovakia, but the game is really a vehicle to reach the kids," said Terry Slobodian, Good Sports' creator. Slobodian, a Canadian, came to Bratislava two years ago to help develop small businesses in Slovakia. He brought along some baseball equipment to use as an icebreaker with the neighborhood kids, and the nucleus of an idea was born.

"I was [visiting] here in 1992, and I saw a lot of kids with nothing to do," Slobodian recalled. "I asked myself, 'Who is thinking about these kids?' That is where the idea began. We are looking to help the kids who need a sport, who need some direction."

Good Sports put on five baseball camps this summer - two in Devínska Nová Ves, in Nitra, Liptovský Ján, and Petržalka. Slobodian plans to increase Good Sports efforts in Petržalka to help combat the deliquency and drug use which are increasing there.

Slobodian and former college tennis star Drew Fermelius also are starting a tennis program for this fall. For more information about Good Sports, call Terry Slobodian at 07/531-3344.

on his community. "Support for this program improves the children's physical condition, provides a positive use of free time, and protects them from unpleasant phenomena such as crime and drugs," the mayor said.

"We will certainly continue to support the Good Sports program. We are also going to contribute money to help build a competitive baseball diamond in Devínska Nová Ves."

The program also has been successful because volunteer coaches travel to Slovakia from Canada and the U.S., using their own vacation time and money raised from friends and church groups.

The rewards have been two-way. "I feel I've gotten even more from the kids than I've given them," said Drew Fernelius, 25, of St. Louis Park, Minnesota. "There is a lot of positive affirmation and reinforcement in Good Sports. We want these kids to know that regardless of their backgrounds or abilities, someone loves and appreciates them. They learn sports skills and also life skills."

Some of those volunteer coaches are professional baseball players. Tom Johnson, who pitched for 11 years with the Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox, showed up at a Good Sports camp for one day last year; this year, he brought four friends back for an entire week.

"We want to teach these kids about baseball, teach them how to have fun, and show them what we believe in," Johnson said.

POSS ADD:[Branislav Strečanský, a Slovak who began playing baseball in Cuba in 1977, said that Good Sports ties in well with the Slovak Baseball League, the growing amateur organization of which he is executive vice president. "We want to promote the sport of baseball, not the league," Strečanský said. "Baseball builds friendships and gives the kids something special. If someone feels special, he is more responsible for himself."]

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