(New Orleans, La.) Six members of the baseball team at Loyola University New Orleans headed to Belize for 10 days over Christmas break. What happened next not only changed the lives of the kids they were helping but also the players themselves.
Bradley Brunet, Jeffrey Castille, Tony Asta, Michael Pfister, Brian Reaney II, and Justin Romaire traveled to Belize along with Fr. Ted Dziak, SJ and former Loyola baseball players and recent alums Eric Walsh and David McChesney.
The players went to Belize to serve as teachers and coaches for Mayan children from the city of San Jose. San Jose is in the district of southern Toledo which is in the English-speaking part of Belize. The players each had the opportunity to lead a class of 15-25 Mayan children who were between six and 12 years of age.
"It was an amazing experience for our baseball players," said Father Ted. "The players were terrific with the young Mayan kids, who had never even swung a bat before. Many of the young Mayan kids were natural athletes who quickly picked up the basics and loved playing the new sports. Maybe the seeds of a new sport have been planted in the village of San Jose."
Check out photos from the trip
The players went there with the goal of teaching baseball to these young kids who had never even seen a game of baseball played before. In the mornings they spent time teaching the children English and math while leading them in arts and crafts. In the afternoon the baseball players were able to head out to the fields to teach the game they love to the children.
Senior catcher and pitcher Bradley Brunet may have gained a new respect for his teachers when he said, “My first day teaching was incredible but surprising. I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t know to what extent. The entire lesson plan that I prepared the night before and the morning of lasted only until morning break.”
Others, like senior pitcher Jeffrey Castille admired the ability of the community to work as one, “I loved watching and experiencing how each villager worked together striving for a better community. If a neighbor is in need they each put their personal needs aside and try to solve the problem to the best of their ability. It makes me wonder: what if we were able to accomplish this here in America?”
“My kids were all so excited to learn something new,” said senior infielder and pitcher Tony Asta. “It made teaching them baseball easy and fun, not to mention they were naturals because they are all so athletic. I think they loved learning baseball.”
“I enjoyed the break time with the kids. They were jumping all over us and accepting us as one of their own. It was really cool to see these kids open their arms to us with such warmth and love. It was definitely comforting. I think this was one of the reasons I settled into Belize so quickly,” said Brunet
“Since I have returned home to New Orleans there hasn’t been a day that has gone by where I haven’t thought about the Belize trip multiple times throughout the day,” said Castille. “From eating as a family in other individuals and family’s homes, to celebrating the Baptism of two young and special villagers, I will truly miss much if not all the things I have experienced in the great country of Belize.
The trip also brought the student-athletes closer together as they had to share a very small common space. They spent the trip without electricity and running water, while living on mats on the floor of the community center.
Castille continued, “I have always been a part of teams throughout my entire life I have always understood the importance of trust and communication. But I feel this trip to Belize turned the importance of these two aspects up a notch. Before the trip I was already pretty close friends with every person on the trip due to us being on the same team. But I truly believe after going on this trip I have grown closer and learned new things about my teammates.”
At the end of the week in San Jose, the players ran a tournament in which the children ran the bases, hit home runs, and threw for distance. Then the student-athletes passed out the gifts they had brought with them, baseballs donated by Loyola baseball coach Doug Faust and jerseys donated by a local New Orleans soccer store, Third Coast soccer. They left behind mitts and bats to allow the children of San Jose to continue to play the game they had just learned, but started to love.
“The last day in San Jose was a bittersweet day for me, and I think was for everybody. It symbolized the culmination of our trip in being with these unfortunate kids and our ability to make an everlasting impression. The giving away of the baseballs, jerseys, and shorts was awesome. The kids thoroughly enjoyed the gifts we gave them. All of them were very thankful. And, I know for a fact that I would have never done anything like that if I didn’t go on this trip.”
Castille may have summed up the trip best when he said, “All in all I feel I have truly taken more out of Belize then what I have actually left there. I honestly can say I put my heart and soul into this entire trip including things like preparation, teaching academics, teaching athletics, etc. I feel that I have learned some very valuable life lessons while being in Belize. One should never take one’s life for granted and you should always strive to do the right thing no matter what the consequences. Live your life to the fullest and to the best of your ability.”