For Ray Bernal, a lot has happened in the past five years. He became the president of San Diego American Little League; with the help of the San Diego Padres, he renovated the league’s baseball fields and added a softball field; and he nearly tripled the size of his league, adding Junior and Senior League Baseball divisions, as well as three levels of Little League Softball®. For these accomplishments he was selected as the recipient of the 2014 Howard and Gail Paster Little League® Urban Initiative Volunteer of the Year Award.
As a vital volunteer, Mr. Bernal has given the children and families of the San Diego American Little League hope during what seemed to be desperate times for the league. In an impoverished, urban neighborhood, threatened by gentrification, local children were in search for a place to play ball.
“We wanted to show families that it’s a good place for the kids to play,” said Mr. Bernal. “Money is a small thing when it comes down to it. We’re more interested in the kids having fun. We’ll find a way for them to play.”
Along with his Board of Directors, Mr. Bernal managed to lower the league’s fees, as well as present income-based discounts to the families thanks to volunteer fundraising efforts. As the league began to grow, there was an increasing need for field space. Because the league shared its fields with city parks, Mr. Bernal had to prove to the city that additional fields were necessary for its rapid growth.
“We had to show the city that we were interested in cooperating,” said Mr. Bernal. “Our volunteers are proactive. We didn’t sit around and just ask the city to do it for us. Although it’s a public park, our volunteers pull the weeds, mow the grass, and take care of the fields.”
A budding relationship with the City of San Diego’s Park and Recreation allowed for a more efficient use of the parks’ fields. With the help of the San Diego Padres, San Diego American Little League fields were completely redeveloped. While the Padres redid the infield sod, volunteers rebuilt the dugouts and added new fencing, backstops, an electronic scoreboard, and foul poles.
“If it weren’t for the hardworking, enthusiastic volunteers such as Ray Bernal, Little League would not be where it is today.” said Stephen D. Keener, Little League President and CEO. “Ray truly exemplifies the ideals of Little League. His dedication to the Urban Initiative program allowed for a league to thrive and succeed, giving kids in an underdeveloped, urban area the chance to have a meaningful Little League experience.”
Since 2005, the Howard and Gail Paster Little League Urban Initiative Volunteer of the Year Award has recognized an adult volunteer involved with a Little League program participating in the Urban Initiative. Howard Paster served as the former President of the Little League Foundation, from 2002 to his passing in 2011. His two children, Tim and Emily, worked with Little League to create an endowment to honor their parents’ dedication to the Little League Urban Initiative. As the recipient, Mr. Bernal has provided a positive Little League experience for the children and adults with a local league’s metropolitan neighborhood or community.
Established in 1999, the Urban Initiative provides financial and educational assistance to local leagues in order to give all children, even those in disadvantaged neighborhoods, a chance to play baseball and softball.
“I am really excited to be receiving the award,” said Mr. Bernal. “It affirms all of the hard work I put in as well as the other board members and coaches. The Little League Urban Initiative allows for our league to be the diamond in the rough. It’s a place where everyone in the community can come together and have fun. I’m lucky to be involved with such a great league that I love.”
Mr. Bernal will be recognized at a breakfast as well as during an on-field ceremony during the 68th Little League Baseball® World Series, which will be played August 14-24, 2014 in South Williamsport, Pa. The championship game is scheduled for Sunday, August 24 at 3 p.m.
If you know of a deserving Little League volunteer, the 2015 Howard and Gail Paster Little League Urban Imitative Volunteer of the Year Award application will be available in early 2015 at LittleLeague.org.