Baseball filled the air every Sunday afternoon this spring in Montreal’s Nelson Mandela Park. Members of the Concordia Stingers baseball team Zane Monk, Stefan Brady and head coach Howie Schwartz were not training with professional athletes, but instead coaching boys from Montreal’s Lubavitch community.
The baseball program was created by Devorah Feldman, executive director of Limmud Centre, a home-schooling community centre she founded three years ago that enables boys in the Lubavitch community to have access to a strong, well-rounded secular education without compromising their religious values.
The school’s model is based on providing the highest quality of concentrated learning at low cost through community collaborations. With support from the larger Jewish community and private donors, the school’s methods have been so successful that Feldman and her team have decided to bring sports into the mix sooner than expected.
“Creating a sports department has always been part of our goals, but our priority was to first master our academic curriculum. With all of our classes meeting and exceeding curriculum and surpassing the government requirements for home-schoolers, we decided to focus on sports and physical education,” says Feldman.
Players in Mosquito and Peewee levels met with the Stingers weekly for two-hour sessions consisting of an hour of intense clinics followed by a game. The season wrapped up on June 17 with a BBQ celebration.
The Stingers training method is the same used by professional players, says Schwartz, a clinical psychologist by trade who has been working specifically with athletes, including the Expos, and as a consultant for Major League Baseball since 1990. Though he has been around the sport since childhood, Schwartz says he was amazed by the progression of the kids from Limmud Centre. “I’ve been around the game for 60 years and I’ve not seen such a rapid expansion of talent and improvement since the beginning,” says Schwartz. “There is a lot of hand-eye co-ordination to learning the game of baseball and these kids are actually doing it at a very high rate of frequency.” He notes that most boys in the program had little to no knowledge of baseball at the beginning of the season and credits their progression to a high level of motivation. “There is no exception in this case, these kids all want to be there.”
Her students’ success is no surprise to Feldman who says that they have been able to learn all their subjects at a very fast pace. “We’re really trying to offer our students everything in the most professional way and we’re trying to achieve the most in the least amount of time,” she says. “Working with the best in the field with the Stingers fits our model beautifully. We just took our ideology and applied it to baseball.”
Sara Diament’s two boys, aged 7 and 11, are enrolled in the program and she is thrilled to be able to provide them with organized sport. “It’s been run very professionally and they have definitely gained a lot of skills,” she says. “It is fun and it keeps them engaged. It also teaches them different aspects of teamwork and important life lessons.” From a religious standpoint, she says, this program also enables her boys to play without having to worry about missing Shabbat games. “Here everyone is in the same boat, which really helps.”
Feldman hopes to expand the program with the Stingers next year to create a league open to all boys in the larger Jewish community who want to play inclusive baseball without any religious, financial, or ability restrictions.
For Schwartz and his Stinger coaches, working with Limmud Centre has been very rewarding. “The baseball program is nothing different than we would teach anyone else. The kids that make up this program are the ones that make it amazing.