Sports

Trip a chance to leave ‘footprint’

The Langley All-Stars, a team of 11, 12 and 13-year-olds will be heading to Uganda in January on a goodwill mission through the not-for-profit group Right To Play. - Gary Ahuja/Langley Times
The Langley All-Stars, a team of 11, 12 and 13-year-olds will be heading to Uganda in January on a goodwill mission through the not-for-profit group Right To Play.
— image credit: Gary Ahuja/Langley Times

The email immediately caught the attention of Jason Andrew.

The title was ‘Uganda’ and the sender was Ruth Hoffman, a woman unknown to the Langley baseball coach.

Hoffman wanted Andrew’s baseball team, the Canadian national 11/12 Little League champions, to travel to Uganda on a goodwill mission.

“She came across very sincere and very passionate,” Andrew recalled about meeting meeting her at a Vancouver coffee shop. “That caught me right away. When somebody is that passionate, you tend to listen.”

Hoffman was proposing sending Andrew’s baseball team, the Langley All-Stars, to Uganda to face the team they were supposed to have played in Williamsport at the Little League World Series.

Uganda had won the right to represent the Middle East/Africa region but were denied visas from the U.S. State Department shortly before the August tournament because their documentation contained discrepancies.

They would have been the first team from Africa to compete at the famed tournament.

Hoffman, now living in Vancouver, had previously spent time in Africa and was connected to the sport through her three sons. Two of them represented Belgium at the senior (15/16) Little League World Series in Maine. She also had existing contacts in Uganda through her work.

“The feeling of knowing what it is like not to go, or to think they are not going and then read the story of the Ugandan kids, who come from a million times worse background, it just really pulled at my heartstrings,” she said.

“I understand what the Ugandan kids went through (to qualify) and to not be able to finish that journey, would be pretty hard,”  Andrew said.

Hoffman came up with the idea to send the Langley squad after reading about New York-based documentary filmmaker Jay Shapiro.

For the past three years, Shapiro had worked on a project focused on baseball in Uganda, called ‘Opposite Field.’

“What inspired me was how good they were, I was never expecting to find that,” Shapiro said.

“Once I saw that, I knew it was a story I wanted to tell.

“It tells the story not just of this team but this small baseball community that we found that is amazing and inspiring and full of really passionate characters.”

“I had no idea it would end up where it did.”

After hearing Hoffman’s pitch, Shapiro was quickly on board. His documentary — scheduled to be released this spring or summer — will conclude with the All-Stars planned trip to Uganda in January.

To help fund the trip, including covering the costs for the Langley team to travel to Uganda, the not-for-profit organization Right To Play was brought on board.

In addition to the baseball, money will go towards legacy projects such as education opportunities through scholarship programs for Ugandan players, funding for travel to participate in international tournaments and/or funding to build a baseball diamond closer to where the players live.

Even before he was approached with this idea, Andrew had wanted his team to leave some sort of legacy.

“One day another team from Langley will go to the World Series and do very well; this is a legacy that can last a lot longer than the memory of what we did,” Andrew said.

“We can extend that legacy and leave a footprint, not just in Langley, but internationally.

“If we help build a complex and get equipment, that will be passed on from generation to generation and hopefully baseball in Uganda progresses as a result of that.”

The Langley players knew little about Uganda.

One of the first things Ian Burns did was search the country on the internet.

“It kind of made me sad because they don’t have shoes and stuff when they play baseball,” he said.

Andrew recalled some of the pictures he saw online, especially of what passes for baseball facilities in some parts of the country.

“That is what sold me, seeing what these kids practice on, and what they wear to practice; it is ridiculous,” he said.

“They have bare feet and cardboard bags.

Ruth Hoffman was flanked by Langley All-Stars coach Jason Andrew (left) and documentary filmmaker Jay Shapiro at the Sheraton Guildford Hotel on Nov. 1. Fundraising is underway to send the Langley Little League baseball to Uganda in January through Right To Play.

“One of the pictures, there is cow in the outfield and they are practising.”

In order to make the trip a reality, $155,000 is needed in fundraising, including $75,000 by early December. As of earlier this week, $40,00 had been raised, Hoffman said.

To donate, visit www.rightoplay.com.

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