For one six-year-old boy in Melrose, Massachusetts, July 21, 2016 was a big night. That night, at Conant Park, Ryan Feeney was invited to step up to the plate and play a game as a member of the Melrose Jimmy Fund Little League team, alongside his older brother, Jack. Families, friends, coaches, and other players came to cheer on Ryan, watching as he scored two runs on his big night.
Ryan is not your average first grader. Born with neurofibromatosis, a disorder causing tumors to grow inside or on nerves within his body, Ryan lost his right leg at age two, and is currently being treated at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for an optic glioma brain tumor.
On that night, Ryan was able to inspire his team and community with his strength and enthusiasm on the field. And for the last 30 years, Jimmy Fund Little League presented by Extra Innings and Franklin Sports has worked to inspire participants to channel their own strength and enthusiasm into helping kids and adults with cancer, all while participating America’s greatest pastime.
It was 1987 when Massachusetts Little League District Administrator George Berardi, along with former Boston Red Sox players Rico Petrocelli and Mike Andrews, had an idea: to create a program allowing local kids to extend their baseball and softball seasons while also raising critical funds for Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund. Thirty years and $4.5 million later, that idea lives on as Jimmy Fund Little League, presented by Extra Innings and Franklin Sports.
Today, carrying on his late father’s passion and hard work, John Berardi serves as the Massachusetts Little League District Administrator and Program Coordinator for Jimmy Fund Little League. John both tirelessly coordinates the fundraising tournaments and serves as a liaison between Massachusetts Little League and the Jimmy Fund.
Each year, more than 5,000 baseball and softball players in Massachusetts and New Hampshire extend their spring season into the summer months by participating in Jimmy Fund Little League tournaments. Off the field, these young athletes support the Jimmy Fund by raising funds in their communities. The program aims to give kids a chance to continue the fun of their baseball and softball seasons while also teaching the importance of volunteerism and philanthropy.
“It’s great to see these kids have the opportunity to continue playing baseball and softball into the summer season for such a great cause,” said John. “It’s important for them to remember why they’re out there and what they can be doing for others.”
Each season, John and his fellow dedicated District Administrators organize hundreds of games, all to instill upon the young participants a love of the game and to make an impact on the Jimmy Fund.
“I’m so proud of what this program has grown to be,” John said. “It’s quite humbling to see these kids continue to work so hard for such an important cause, and to know what a difference their hard work makes.”
Like Ryan, many kids help remind the Little League players of their hard work’s importance. Every year, a Jimmy Fund Clinic patient is named the Jimmy Fund Little League “Designated Hitter.” The Designated Hitter helps connect the players to Dana-Farber’s mission and serves as motivation for the kids throughout their season.
The 2016 Designated Hitter is Franklin, a third grader from Brockton’s Hancock Elementary School. Franklin – or Fufu, as he likes to be called – was diagnosed with lymphoma in January 2015 and is currently in treatment at Dana-Farber’s Jimmy Fund Clinic in Boston. A baseball player himself, Fufu also loves music, sports, math, and science. Inspired to help others, Fufu would like to be a doctor when he grows up.
Kids like Fufu and Ryan are at the core of Jimmy Fund Little League’s mission. They inspire their peers to use their passions for baseball and softball to make a difference in the lives of others. And for District Administrators like John, seeing the kids learn that lesson makes all their hard work and dedication worthwhile.
“I’m proud that the kids get to see the importance of their fundraising,” said John. “Whether it be visiting the Jimmy Fund Clinic, or meeting the year’s Designated Hitter, they get to know the real impact of their season’s work.”
Account Manager/Writer, Development Communications