Steamboat baseball camp turns passion into purpose
Play It Well camp fires up community while bringing water to Africa
Sports carry a power that transcends any game. They create a bond within a community and fuel that community to make a difference.
Three years ago, Joel Cobb and many others teamed up to create Generation U, an organization that brings clean water to remote villages in Africa.
When not leading the organization, Cobb is also a baseball and football coach in Steamboat. He saw an opportunity to combine both of his passions and help feed Generation U through Steamboat sports while using the work in Africa to transform the local community into a stronger one and his athletes into better people.
To accomplish this, Cobb brought in a few friends to create the Play It Well baseball camp, which ran for its second year on Saturday, Aug. 13.
The camp is designed to kill two birds with one stone having all the proceeds go directly toward Generation U’s next water well project in Africa, while also growing the sport of baseball in a city that is more focused on other sports.
A key component of the camp, according to Cobb, is showing kids how to be better people in the community as well as better players on the field.
“One of our things as coaches for baseball is we want to teach the kids how to play it well on the field obviously, but there’s a lot more that happens off the field and off the diamond so we really try to focus on how we can play it well off the diamond,” Cobb said.
Cobb explained that instead of just telling kids that they should be a good leader and encourage others, he gives them the opportunity to apply that in real life situations through their work with Generation U.
A group of 15 Generation U members recently got back from a trip to Uganda in July. Among those 15 were Cobb, his wife Bridget, Nick Cornwell and a couple Steamboat baseball players.
Cornwell, a baseball and football coach in Steamboat, described the trip to Africa as life changing and spoke to the raw emotion he felt when leaving.
“We knew when we left, no one was giving shirts away anymore and no one was giving shoes or medical supplies or anything that we thought was important to them, but we knew that the water kept flowing and that life was continuing on out there,” Cornwell said.
Generation U’s first well was installed in September 2021 in a Ugandan village called Magale. Just one well saves 38 lives per year, creating an indescribable impact on African villages.
Bridget Cobb is a Registered Nurse at Yampa Valley Medical Center and had the opportunity to do a medical mission in several villages in Uganda.
What Bridget Cobb noticed was that the health of those living in Magale was much improved compared to those living in other villages. A lot of that is due to their newly acquired access to clean water.
Bridget Cobb found great pleasure in knowing that the work they are doing is saving lives and making a difference in Africa as well as in Steamboat.
“It was very eye opening and exciting knowing we could come back here and come together and really make a difference, not only over there with bringing water, but allowing people here to have the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives across the world,” Bridget Cobb said.
The adults were not the only ones to see their impacts come full circle. Some Steamboat baseball players had the opportunity to travel to Uganda and got the chance to see the difference they made first hand.
Tanner Cobb, an incoming freshman at Steamboat Springs High School, was awestruck by his experience.
“The night we landed, we went back to one of the churches and all of the kids follow you, they were so excited,” Tanner Cobb said. “We take things for granted here in America and they just love everything they get. It was really cool.”
Growing the game
Cornwell was inspired by the parallels between his experience in Africa and what it’s like to be part of a sports team.
“The one thing we realized out there was we thought they had very little, but what they really did have was, sometimes in ways, more than we had in the form of more community and family, and that’s what sports is,” Cornwell said. “That’s what this is all about.”
Cornwell and Joel Cobb have made it their mission to share their love for baseball with the Steamboat youth and part of that comes from the Play It Well camp.
The camp was available to players from five to 14 years old and focused on the fundamentals of the game.
The athletes rotated to practice stations that covered fielding ground balls and fly balls as well as pitching and hitting. They even ended their day with a 30-minute game and a pizza party.
When Joel Cobb and Cornwell first got involved with Steamboat Youth Baseball, they found a small population of players and an excess of baseball fields that were rarely being used.
In just one year, the youth baseball league has grown from about 100 players to over 300 and a lot of credit goes to camps like Play it Well that put emphasis on the game even when the season is over.
The goal is to fuel the younger athletes’ passion for the game and maintain a high quantity of players for all age groups to funnel great baseball into the high school level.
Joel Cobb and Cornwell are excited for what the future of baseball holds in town, and they see that the work they are putting in now will pay off in the future.
“There’s a thirst and a place for baseball out here,” Cornwell said. “If I was going to trade anything, I’d take that all day. You’ve got five year olds and six year olds out here talking about what kind of glove they’re gonna get next and how heavy their bat is. Doesn’t get any better than that.”
To reach Tom Skulski, call 970-871-4240, email tskulski@SteamboatPilot.com.
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