MADISON, Wis. - Touted as Madison’s first-ever coed homeless softball team, the Beacon Eagles are preparing for their season.
The team, which is part of the Madison School and Community Recreation League, has 20 players with diverse backgrounds.
As player John Brown practices for the Beacon Eagle's first season, he’s ready to step up to the plate.
”This is my first time doing it since my teen years,” he said. "I feel like a leader. I feel like I'm doing something for a change."
For Brown, who comes from what he calls a "bad background," the softball field is a welcome change from his struggles, which included 20 years in prison.
The idea to give people dealing with homelessness a team to call their own came from manager Mike O'Neill.
"I thought it might be fun,” O'Neill said. “It gives them a chance to use a real talent that they have in the midst of all the problems they’re having to deal with."
"Mike sent a message he called a crazy idea,” said Karen Andro, director of Hope’s Home Ministries. "I was the first to respond."
Andro, who is a member of the team, is an advocate for the homeless on and off the field.
"The issue itself will bring us together, but when we're here playing, that's not what it's about,” she said. “It's that we're connecting as people.”
All bases are covered. The team is made up of those who are or have been homeless, along with people who help homeless or for whom the issue has meaning.
"It's doing great. I like it,” player Jojo Frieson said. “I'm here to play … just play ball."
Some, like Brown, haven't played in a while.
"It really took a toll on my body, he said, “but it's something new. My whole life has been hard, so this pain don't hurt."
"It isn't about being as good as we used to be, or to be or the best,” Andro said. Instead, she said, the team's main opponent this season is the stigma of homelessness, which is something Brown is ready to face off against.
"I'm a part of it because it's something I believe in,” he said.
At the end of the day, the team's goal is the same as that of any team playing ball.
"I think this gives homeless individuals an opportunity to do an activity that's just fun,” O’Neill said.
"I'm really happy, you know,” Brown said. “I'm really happy."
There was so much interest in a homeless softball team that O’Neill and other leaders, including Street Pulse editor-in-chief Jeremy Evenson, had to create two teams: the Beacon Eagles and the Street Pulse Sluggers.
The teams are sponsored by groups including The Beacon, a day resource center for those experiencing homelessness.
Edgewood College donated the Beacon Eagles’ jerseys.
The Street Pulse Sluggers start their season on May 10. The Beacon Eagles make their debut May 11.
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