'Victory' in baseball -- on & off field
When Jonathan Voss started Victory Baseball, he wanted more than just a travel baseball program. He wanted kids to learn about more than just the game of baseball.
In his effort to build kids both on and off the field, he brought in the Sportsleader program. Sportsleader, which is a program designed to build the kids' virtue, has taken Victory Baseball to the next level.
"Our goal is to develop kids more from a social and character side other than X's and O's of baseball," Voss said. "We instituted it in all of our programs this year and are teaching them to accept responsibility and lead courageously. Baseball is the byproduct of communication for it."
Sportsleader was started by former Ohio State football player Joe Lukens and Paul Passafiume. It is endorsed by Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel and Chicago Bears co-owner Patrick McCaskey. It is used across the country and continues to spread. According to Voss, Providence Catholic instituted the program as well this year.
While Victory Baseball has been extremely successful with an overall winning percentage of .800, the program is more focused on building young men.
"The wins aren't important," Voss said. "Baseball won't determine who these young men are and will be in the future. Instead we are focused on getting good kids to be pillars in society. That is the legacy we are trying to lead."
Voss first heard of the program from Mike Cemeno, owner of Cemeno's Pizza. Voss and his coaches then attended character-building conferences in Cincinnati. Each coach went through a formal four-week training program.
"We have great coaches who realize they are in the mentoring-type role. It's their job to give the youth something more than just baseball," Voss said.
"We want to teach the kids how to not only be good baseball players, but more importantly good young men, adults, fathers, and sons," 12U coach Bart Pernai said.
There are three major aspects of Sportsleader that the coaches focus on -- charity, humility and courage. Pernai said the group is learning how to take ownership for their own game and own actions. The players have picked up on this aspect quickly.
"We work together and don't criticize each other if someone makes a mistake," catcher/infielder Drew Voss said.
"If someone gets down we always pick him up," Johnny Bylina added.
"We realize there's always another chance so just get it the next play," Brian Dusatka said.
The selflessness and charity have been evident. According to Brandon Kaminiski, the team volunteered at a Ronald McDonald House, where they served food. Also, Jim O'Brien and his 9U team have received national recognition for their jerseys. While most teams have the player's last name on the back of the jersey, the 9U team does not because they believe they are playing for the name on the front, not the back.
"We're just trying to be better people and set good examples," Drew Voss said.
Pernai's team has experienced some success on the field as well. The team is headed to Cooperstown this week to play against competition from across the nation. The winning could be a direct result of the Sportsleader lessons.
"It teaches the kids to give all you've got because you don't want to let your teammate down," Jonathan Voss said. "If the kids are able to do that, the winning takes care of itself. We say bust your tail for two hours and we will let the chips fall where they may."
Jonathan Voss has noticed not only a change with attitude on the field, but at home as well with his son, Drew.
"It's great to see his growth and maturity as he is being a good kid around the house, even if it's just taking out the garbage," he said. "He is taking a proactive role at home. I've seen all the kids bring that leadership they have off the field onto the field and it is raising their level of play."
For Voss, the biggest result from Sportsleader is the effect on family.
"The most important thing is the growth it brings as a family," he said. "Before the season we have dads hand out the jersey to their son and each dad told their son what he was proud of. It challenges the kids then to be leaders and take responsibility. This is the difference I want Victory Baseball to have on a young man's life, in any sport and in anything that they do."
Just because Victory Baseball won't be seen getting in another team's face or heard smack-talking, they should not be taken lightly.
"Some teams come in thinking we're soft, but I think our winning percentage speaks for itself," Voss said.
"We feel that anyone can go out and throw a baseball around and many teams are successful, but what matters is what the kids can do for the community and culture, and Sportsleader has taught us that. Not all professional athletes are positive so this is an opportunity for kids to get a positive impact. It's a process that we still need to get better, but it will only continue to grow."
Anyone interested in Victory Baseball should check out the team web site at www.leaguelineup.com/victorybaseballclubofjoliet. For more information on Sportsleader, go to www.sportsleader.org. There you can find more information on how to take responsibility as well as teach it, as Voss has done.
"I feel it's my responsibility to give these kids more than just a typical program, and Victory Baseball does that," he said.
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