WKU students help program bring baseball back to Puerto Rico

Editor's note: This story incorrectly stated that the ROTC donated to Play Ball Puerto Rico, and that students could not go to Puerto Rico for the program for legal issues. Students could not go to Puerto Rico for the program because WKU policy does not allow trips that are not directly related to a class. The Herald regrets the error. 

The WKU community has been helping Play Ball Puerto Rico, an organization formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017, bring baseball back to communities devastated by the storm.

Bernie Strenecky, WKU scholar-in-residence, was with his high school-aged grandson Lawson when the subject of the damage came up.

“He said, ‘Grandpa, things aren’t going very well in Puerto Rico, are they?’” Strenecky said.

This was six months after Hurricane Maria, and large parts of the island were still without water and electricity.

“[Lawson] said, ‘I am no longer going to wait for my government,’” Strenecky said. “‘I am going to do this myself.’”

Strenecky asked his grandson what he wanted to do, and Lawson said his plan would be successful because it would work with teenagers and students. He would work to rejuvenate baseball, “the heart and soul of Puerto Rico.”

The duo started with a Facebook page and a GoFundMe to get the program off the ground. After a while, they had raised $2,000.

“[Lawson] soon learned that $2,000 in baseball equipment is really not significant,” Strenecky said.

Strenecky’s wife placed a request on the community network Nextdoor and asked for gently used baseball equipment. The community donated a “tremendous amount” to the program. Louisville Slugger also heard about the program and donated equipment to help.

Students like Conner Hounshell, a biology and political science major from LaGrange, have become involved with Play Ball Puerto Rico through the $100 Solution.

“I’m attempting now to start a Facebook page for the program, because there’s not really any specific, central source for people to get kind of news and information about the program,” Hounshell said.

Another group that has helped raise money for Play Ball Puerto Rico is service sorority Omega Phi Alpha. Arinda Davis, a biology and environmental science senior from Brownsville, was the nations committee head for OPA last semester and coordinated a fundraiser for Play Ball Puerto Rico in April.

“A lot of people didn’t even necessarily realize that Puerto Rico really emphasized baseball and that it was a really big part of their culture,” Davis said. “In turn, they didn’t really understand the destruction that the hurricane had caused there.”

Davis heard about Play Ball Puerto Rico through her environmental science major and the $100 Solution House. When she heard about it, she reached out to Strenecky and asked how to help.

Davis is no longer the Nations Committee head for OPA, so its fundraiser for other nations this semester will not be involved with Play Ball Puerto Rico.

“I would love for OPA to work more with the $100 Solution program, especially for the Puerto Rico program,” Davis said.

Strenecky said currently students do not go to Puerto Rico with the program due to WKU policy. However, if an academic unit wanted to create a course to work with the program, then students would have a chance of going with Play Ball Puerto Rico to help.

One aspect of the program is having the players and coaches of the team it’s helping create a service project for their community. Strenecky said they asked these teams how they’re going to make their community better.

“It’s baseball as a tool for community change,” Strenecky said.

News reporter Lily Burris can be reached at 270-745-6011 and lily.burris203@topper.wku.edu. Follow her on Twitter at @lily_burris.