Hundreds come out for kickball for a good cause

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

There’s been an overthrow at third base, but the runner doesn’t realize it. Frankly, she looks just happy to have reached base safely.

“Rebecca, keep going!” a teammate shouts amid cheers and laughter. “Go, go, go, go, go!”

It’s just after 10 a.m. Sunday and already the athletic fields on Belle Isle are filling up with people from all over Metro Detroit. Sports ability and acumen are not the prime requirements today. Participation is.

“Everyone can do it,” said Nikki Carbonari, a 24-year-old Cleveland native, who now makes her home in downtown Detroit. “It’s not ... you don’t need skill.”

Hundreds made the trek to the island park to play in a marathon kickball tournament — all for a good cause. Proceeds from the tournament organized by NEXTGen Detroit will go to help restore and refurbish Bradby Park in the city’s North End neighborhood. And the park can use the help.

NEXTGen, part of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, has held similar fundraisers for six years, each with a different beneficiary. This year, the group has set a target goal of $30,000 to help replace the roof on the Bradby Park recreation center, clean up the athletic fields and create a shaded space for community gatherings.

Earlier this summer, former Detroit Tigers outfielder Ike Blessitt hosted a baseball training program at the park and realized there was plenty of work to be done.

“It’d just be another place where these kids can get off these streets and do something,” he said last week. “It’s a big opportunity.”

Adam Blanck is one of the chairs of the 2015 event and a good example of the kind of people who were willing to make kickball part of their Sunday. Most were young professionals who live and work in Metro Detroit and want to do something to help the city

“The goal from the beginning ... was to bring people down here and make it a lot of fun for them to come and raise money,” he said. “We think we’ll see close to a thousand. ... Last year we had north of 800.”

Previously, the annual fundraiser had centered on softball. But in an effort to make the event more inclusive, Blanck said, the group switched to kickball two years ago.

It seems to have worked, since the athletic fields were crammed with players by 11 a.m. At one point, six games were underway at the same time. Teams wearing matching sponsor shirts from businesses like Neumann Smith Architecture and Simmons and Clark Jewelers rotated constantly between offense and defense with players ranging from their early 20s to late 40s.

Liz Dubey was one of them. The 33-year-old Southfield resident considers herself a decent athlete, having played baseball in her youth. She found out quickly, however, that kickball is a different animal.

“We all got here and were like, ‘So ... how do we play this game again?” she said, finding humor in her inability to master a game played mostly by children. “Anybody can play — not well, but we can all do it.”

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Benjie Klein, left, throws the ball but is unable to stop Jacob Gordon from scoring during their tournament game.