Sports

'Something that will be with us forever’

Uganda celebrated after defeating Langley 2-1 in an exhibition game last week. The Langley All-Stars traveled to the African country to play the team they were supposed to face in August at the Little League World Series. - Hubert Kang photography
Uganda celebrated after defeating Langley 2-1 in an exhibition game last week. The Langley All-Stars traveled to the African country to play the team they were supposed to face in August at the Little League World Series.
— image credit: Hubert Kang photography

Seeing the living conditions of kids the same age as his son and his teammates made it hard for Dean Cantelon to keep his emotions in check.

“For me, personally, it was hard to take, but you can’t be sad because these boys are happy as to what they have,” he said on Tuesday, two days after returning from Uganda.

Cantelon accompanied the Langley All-Stars baseball team on a weeklong tour of the African country.

Langley, the Canadian Little League champions, is made up of 11, 12 and 13-year-old baseball players. The team was supposed to face Uganda in the opener of the Little League World Series in August, but the Ugandan players were denied visas to enter the United States, due to discrepancies in their paperwork.

After hearing about their plight, Vancouver’s Ruth Hoffman came up with the idea to send the Langley team to face Uganda.

The Pearl of Africa Series was organized by Right To Play, a humanitarian non-profit organization. Major League Baseball players Jimmy Rollins and Derrek Lee, as well as Sportsnet baseball analyst and former player Gregg Zaun, were also on the trip as guest coaches.

They organized baseball clinics for the Ugandan youth.

Uganda did beat Langley 2-1 when they played, while the other two games saw the teams mix their players.

When one of the Ugandan players took the Langley team on a tour of where he lived, Cantelon called it an “eye opener.”

The boy lived in a 10x10 foot unit with his entire family in a slum.

There was no electricity, no water supply and no toilets.

“It was really tough, you had to keep the emotions in,” Cantelon said.

What really touched Cantelon was the boy’s grandmother presenting the entire team with bracelets.

“Even though they come from very little, they were very kind and caring,” he said. “And they want to give, even though they don’t have a lot.

“When the boys saw that, it was definitely an eye opener for them.”

On the ball diamond, the Ugandan youth were just like any other kid their age.

“You see them out of where they reside, they are so upbeat, happy, you just wouldn’t know where they come from,” Cantelon marveled.

“They are just upbeat, happy-go-lucky kids.”

Cantelon said he was impressed by the Ugandans’ skill on the ball diamond.

“It is amazing to see ... they come from very little, but just looking at them, they are able to prosper and develop as not only ballplayers, but as human beings,” he said.

Seeing the living conditions made Ken Dubois appreciate home even more.

“In the slums, there is garbage everywhere and it doesn’t smell very good,” he said.

“They have to live with that I couldn’t handle that.”

Dubois said what he took away from the trip was “seeing what they deal with everyday.” Cantelon doesn’t expect the memories of the trip to ever fade.

“It will be something that will be with us probably forever,” he said.

“You hear about it, you see it on TV, but it just doesn’t sink in unless you are there to see it firsthand.”

Filmmaker Jay Shapiro will include footage from the Langley team’s trip in Opposite Field, a documentary chronicling baseball in Uganda.

Sportsnet was also on the trip and they will air a 30-minute documentary in March.

The trip also served towards raising money to construct a new baseball field closer to the players’ homes in Uganda, starting an educational scholarship fund and creating a travel fund to help send future Ugandan teams to international tournaments.

The fundraising goal to cover the cost of the trip to Uganda as well as creating all these legacy funds is $155,000 and just over $18,500 remains to be raised to reach that amount. To donate click here.

For more photos from the Langley team’s trip to Uganda, visit www.hubertkang.tumblr.com.

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