Middletown legend Schwarber, church teaming up to rejuvenate youth baseball in the city

By this time next year, a new baseball program called Middie Way Baseball will be playing its game. Berachah Church and Middletown district leaders hope the league introduces more kids to the sport and improves the high school baseball program that has one winning season in the last decade. Here, Middletown's Cam Norris pitches during against Lakota East. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
By this time next year, a new baseball program called Middie Way Baseball will be playing its game. Berachah Church and Middletown district leaders hope the league introduces more kids to the sport and improves the high school baseball program that has one winning season in the last decade. Here, Middletown's Cam Norris pitches during against Lakota East. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Successful high school athletic programs depend on youth sports to provide foundation.

“It’s a must,” said JD Foust, Middletown High School’s athletic director.

A Middletown church is stepping to the plate in hopes of introducing local youth to baseball in an affordable and fun way.

Berachah Church, which holds its services in the former Verity Middle School on Johns Road, has kept a promise leaders made to the school board years ago, said Pastor Lamar Ferrell.

He said Berachah opens its building and property to numerous events as a way to improve the quality of life in the city. Church leaders, along with Middletown graduate and Major League Baseball player Kyle Schwarber, are spearheading the Middie Way Baseball League for students in grades kindergarten through fifth.

Decades ago, Middletown had a robust youth baseball program that played its games at Smith Park. Then those baseball diamonds were bulldozed and turned into soccer fields. Kids who want to play youth baseball now travel outside the city.

The void of youth baseball has been “a major concern” for Foust in his second year as AD, he said. The district’s baseball teams have struggled over the years due to the lack of a feeder program, he said. In the last 10 seasons, the Middies have compiled a 78-177 record (.306) and had one winning season (13-9), according to Greater Miami Conference records.

Foust called the GMC the best public school sports league in Ohio, and since it includes traditional baseball powers like Lakota East, Lakota West and Mason that have strong feeder programs, the Middies were “behind the 8 ball.”

The church’s support is critical, Foust said, because baseball is the most expensive summer sport with equipment and fees associated with playing on select teams.

“Some of our kids can’t afford to play,” he said.

Ferrell said Berachah is holding three Sunday FUNdamental sessions from 2-3:30 p.m. June 13, July 18 and Aug. 15 at the Middletown Baseball Fields at Lefferson Park, then an all-day camp on Sept. 25 when Schwarber may attend depending on his schedule with the Washington Nationals,

The sessions will be free and refreshments will be served.

Berachah hopes to start the Middie Way Baseball season for those playing Rag Ball, T-ball and Coach Pitch in 2022.

After talks with Greg Schwarber, Middletown’s former police chief and Kyle Schwarber’s father, Ferrell was told that Kyle and his wife Paige planned to assist Middletown’s youth sports after he retired.

Schwarber told Ferrell he’d only attach his name to the league if it was top-notch.

“You are speaking our language,” Ferrell responded. “We expect excellence in all our ministries. We want this to be done right.”

Ferrell has met with local coaches, teachers and clergy in the community and said everyone is excited about the prospects of the program that will stress aspects outside the lines.

“We don’t want to back away from character,” he said.

Then Ferrell was contacted by the Middletown Division of Fire that was looking for a beneficiary from its annual golf tournament. The firefighters will donate the proceeds to Middie Way Baseball, Ferrell said.

“We are on the doorstep of something incredible,” he said. “It’s going to take off.”

The pastor said the baseball program hopefully will offer youth an opportunity to get out of the house and learn the importance of exercise, wins and losses and the value of teamwork.

“This will offer help and hope to our community,” he said.

Washington Nationals' Kyle Schwarber, a Middletown High School graduate, celebrates as he runs the bases after his two-run game-winning homer during the 10th inning against the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park. Church leaders, along with Schwarber, are spearheading the Middie Way Baseball League for students in grades kindergarten through fifth. Alex Brandon / AP
Washington Nationals' Kyle Schwarber, a Middletown High School graduate, celebrates as he runs the bases after his two-run game-winning homer during the 10th inning against the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park. Church leaders, along with Schwarber, are spearheading the Middie Way Baseball League for students in grades kindergarten through fifth. Alex Brandon / AP

Credit: Alex Brandon

Credit: Alex Brandon

HOW TO HELP

DONATIONS: Middie Way Baseball League is accepting used baseball equipment and monetary donations. Donations can be dropped off at the Middletown Division of Fire Headquarters, 2300 Roosevelt Blvd., from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

All donations are tax deductible and can be made payable to the Compassion City Center, Inc.

MIDDLETOWN HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL RECORDS LAST 10 SEASONS

Year: Record

2020: No season due to coronavirus

2019: 10-18

2018: 7-21

2017: 6-20

2016: 3-22

2015: 4-21

2014: 6-17

2013: 12-15

2012: 7-17

2011: 13-9

2010: 10-17

Total: 78-177

SOURCE: Greater Miami Conference

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