Thanks to a chance encounter, a serendipitous bounce of the proverbial ball, the city of Newton was able to recruit some help in its ongoing mission to upgrade facilities at Centennial Park.
Newton city engineer Suzanne Loomis became acquainted with Bill Severns and his engineering firm while reaching out for another city project, but talk turned to Centennial Park and the city's master plan to to improve its fields.
Loomis happened to be on her way to a baseball tournament for her kids that evening, too. In divulging that, she learned about Severns' other job history — as a former professional baseball player turned author who has written numerous books and now does public speaking engagements on the impact of sports on kids and the role of coaches and parents in kids' development.
From that discussion, the idea for the Keepers of the Sandlot fundraiser was born. It will be hosted by the city from 6 to 10 p.m. Jan. 30 at the Meridian Center, 1420 E. Broadway Court, Newton.
"Suzanne asked him if he would be willing to come and do an event here in Newton as a fundraiser. That's kind of how it was born," said Newton director of communications Erin McDaniel. "It's a new and different kind of event for us. We don't do things like this often, but this just seemed like a great opportunity with a speaker who we thought would be of great interest in the community. We thought the message that Bill brings would really resonate with our coaches and parents."
Dinner will be catered by the Meridian Center before Severns speaks on life lessons learned from his experiences at every level of the game, including time with the Milwaukee Brewers organization. It is a discussion that will be encouraging to parents, coaches and athletes alike from the youth to college level.
McDaniel noted, as the first of event of its kind for the city, there are no specific goals. All proceeds from the event will go towards athletic field improvements at Centennial Park and, depending on how well it is received, could lead to similar event in the future.
"We're trying it out and it could be the first in a series of fundraising events. I don't know for sure, but we're going to see how it goes," McDaniel said.
So far, there have been some nibbles on tickets, but sales were expected to be slow around the holidays. McDaniel is optimistic that will pick up in the new year given the sizable number of club and high school sports teams in the area.
Impressed as city staff were with Severns' message, they are hopeful the Newton community will be equally receptive and support efforts to invest in the Centennial Park facilities.
"A lot of people in town see the potential at Centennial Park. We've heard from many parents and coaches that Newton is missing out on some of the activity and economic benefits of this industry, youth sports, because we don't have the facilities that some other communities do. So, we're kind of slowly and steadily making improvements, and every little bit helps," McDaniel said. "We're eager to see Centennial be improved and take advantage of that opportunity we have to make it really nice out there."
Tickets for the Keepers of the Sandlot fundraiser are $40 and can be purchased at www.eventbrite.com/e/keepers-of-the-sandlot-fundraiser-84896199819. More information on Severns can be found at www.keepersofthesandlot.com while questions on the event can be directed to the city engineering office at 316-284-6020.