May 30, 2012— Teaching America’s favorite pastime to students at Epps Island Elementary has become a dream come true for fourth grade teacher Bill Cramer. Cramer grew up in the backyard of Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs, watching some of the greats like Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays play as a child.
“Baseball is a great game, and a constructive outlet for kids,” said Cramer. “I developed my love for baseball playing as a child, and I just wanted to do something to get our kids involved in an athletic activity after school that would be fun for them as well.”
Cramer started the baseball club three years ago at Epps Island, where he personally funded expenses for 18 baseball mitts and three bats. Little had he known then, however, that his contribution would evolve into a new and exciting tradition at Epps Island.
“The students love to go, and it has become a highly anticipated activity for all throughout the year,” said principal Kristin Bevan. “Games are really exciting to watch as lots of parents, teachers and team cheerleaders come out to root for the students. We appreciate all Mr. Cramer’s efforts and enthusiasm that he has put into this project.”
The club has grown in popularity over the years, as nearly 50 students are divided into four teams during the fall and spring. Participation is limited to fourth and fifth grade students, both boys and girls, who meet at the sandlot behind the school twice a week on Wednesday and Thursdays. Students also have to meet academic expectations in order to participate, including good grades, attendance, behavior and participation in other campus activities during the year. According to Cramer, the club has also become an inadvertent opportunity for students to build positive character traits.
“Playing sports is a great way to bond with kids of all ages, and it has turned out to be a real positive character building tool for these students,” he said. “There are several life lessons that can be learned in baseball and in all sports. Many students have stepped up as leaders and have broken out of their shells in the club. It’s also really great to watch the kids cheer each other on and take an active interest in the successes of one another.”
During the year Cramer writes summaries after each game for the next morning’s announcements, which has become a highlight for all on campus. He comes up with fun nicknames for those who hit homeruns or made great plays, an added benefit that has boosted morale and comradery among students and staff noted Principal Bevan.
“It is such a joy to see a kid who has been struggling all season to finally find themselves and start hitting the ball and making great plays in the field,” Cramer expressed. “It is such a confidence builder and it helps let them know that they can make a big difference in something if they stick with it and work hard.”
Cramer has also enlisted the help of Brent Powell, fifth grade teacher, to coach and pitch, as well as his wife Laura Cramer who is the official scorekeeper for both teams.
“None of this would be possible if not for the huge support by the administration, staff, Mr. Powell and my wife,” he stated. “The staff response to this has been great with several teachers telling me there have been noticeable improvements in many of their students' classroom performance and behavior,” he said.
Cramer began teaching fourth grade science and social studies at Epps Island more than four years ago. He originally earned his degree from Southeast Missouri State and became a geologist in the oil field, and later worked as a manager for a trucking company for more than 20 years. Although never having played beyond the sandlot of the neighborhood he grew up in, Cramer knew that he would one day coach and be able to share his passion for baseball with others.
“I love teaching, and always wanted to teach. It’s great getting to work with kids and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t want to be here,” said Cramer. “I find a lot of truth to the statement ‘baseball is life’, and these kids are living proof. Seeing the look on their faces when they hit the ball or make a big catch, it’s all the reward I could have asked for.”
To see photos of the 2011-2012 baseball season at Epps Island, click here.