Oct. 29, 2012
NEW ORLEANS - On Saturday, Oct. 20, members of the Tulane baseball program took a break from fall practice to support an 18 year-long partnership with St. Michael Special School. The annual softball game was played on Tulane's campus at Greer Field at Turchin Stadium on Saturday morning.
This event had a different feeling than in previous years. Back in September, St. Michael's principal and Tulane alumna, Mrs. Jane Silva passed away. She dedicated her life to the school in her 38 years at St. Michael. The New Orleans native was also a graduate of Tulane's neighboring Ursuline Academy and earned her Masters across the street at Loyola University.
"I truly believe she was one of the greatest ladies I've ever met," remembered Tulane Head Coach Rick Jones. "She was a giving person totally immersed in her role as principal of the school making sure every one of those kids' needs was met and they were taken care of. She will be sorely missed and the only solace is that we have a guardian angel."
The partnership began when a few former players, who had connections with St. Michael Special School, proposed it as a community project for the team. Jones, whose wife also works in special education, was behind the idea.
"It humbles you," said Jones. "It gives our guys a better understanding of how fortunate they are and also how fortunate those kids are to have St. Michael's."
"I think they've had an impact on our lives and showed us how thankful we are on a daily basis for everything that we have and to realize that we are who we are," agreed Tulane senior Brennan Middleton.
St. Michael Special School is dedicated to helping students with major learning disabilities and special educational needs. The school provides students with a high quality education as well as social, vocational and physical training.
Separated by age groups, students from St. Michael took to the field playing a series of scrimmages. Tulane players accompanied the students on the field assisting them in all aspects of the game.
"I got to work with a girl named Emily and she actually knew the game really well. I was really surprised," laughed Green Wave senior Andrew Reeves. "I was trying to help her out, and she was like `No, I got it.'"
A ceremony was held after the games where each St. Michael student was awarded with a medal by a Tulane player. Jones gives all of that credit to Randy King of FedEx, who sponsored the event and provided all of the medals.
"I'm always indebted to (Randy) and FedEx," said Jones.
The softball games are not the only event between the two programs. Each fall, the Green Wave visits the children in their school, playing with them on the playground and touring the classrooms. The players return again before the holidays, this time as spectators to St. Michael's holiday festivities. Jones remembers a few years ago when the school's bell choir taught the team a few holiday jingles.
"It was one of the great times; we've had so many," said Jones with a smile.
Many of the Tulane players have claimed that the event is just as, if not more, enjoyable for them as it is for the students of St. Michael, something Jones has seen in their responses as well.
"We take out of it more I think than they take out of it," said Tulane senior Alex Byo. "It's something that's great for the program and great for us individually. It's a great partnership for the city of New Orleans. The kids are great; they're fantastic."
"I think it's big for our younger guys to know that we're more than just a baseball team," explained teammate and fellow senior Blake Crohan. "St. Michael's I know gets a lot out of it, and we get a lot out of it too so its really nice to have had this partnership for such a long time. [The kids] just enjoy hanging out with us. They enjoy it whether they're winning, they're losing, they're doing well or not. They just like running around the bases."
One player claims to have enjoyed the day more than anyone.
"It was actually the most fun thing I've ever done baseball wise," admitted Reeves. "I called my family after and told them all about it. Each kid was just energetic; you can tell they just loved being out here. They had a great time, and I think I had more fun than any of them. It was just a really fun experience and I'm proud to be a part of Tulane and being able to do it."