Just as the University of Chicago baseball season winds down, another one begins. The Canaryville Baseball League kicked off on May 2, with over 500 people coming out to watch and march in the parade. The connection between these two teams? Johnny Kozlar, a third-year University of Chicago varsity baseball player and the president of the Canaryville League.
“Ever since I was four years old, I have been playing the game of baseball and have learned a lot of information and knowledge from many of my coaches,” Kozlar said. “I wanted to give the information that I have learned to these children, so they are better prepared for the game when they have opportunities to pursue their baseball careers and their life dreams.”
On a Mission
Although he hails from a rival neighborhood, Bridgeport, Kozlar quickly became attached to the Little League program in Canaryville. Kozlar began coaching the 10-12 year olds’ Astros team last season. Appalled at the rocky infields and shabby facilities for the kids ages 3-16, Kozlar decided to launch a fundraising project to renovate the fields.
For these new facilities, nothing was too good. The new infield was designed by Van’s Enterprises, who also designed the local U.S. Cellular Field, and the netting by Protective Sports Concepts, who designed for Yankee Stadium. This upcoming season will also see new bases, Majestic brand high-quality uniforms, trophies, paid umpires and concession stands. Kozlar described these improvements as “the end of an old era and the start of a new one.”
Despite these changes, the community is still a crucial part of the league. Canaryville resident Bob Popp completed the fencing. Members of Canaryville, McKinley Park, Englewood, Bridgeport, Hyde Park and other neighborhoods came together for 14 hours to lay down the new sod on the field. Kozlar keeps the community informed of progress and news related to the League through a listhost that “can keep everyone involved even after their kids leave,” Kozlar said.
Even the fundraising began in the community. Last summer, kids rode their bikes through their neighborhood asking local businesses to donate money towards the restoration. During those three days, they succeeded raising $1,300 towards the total cost of $45,000. Other fundraisers Kozlar helped organize include the 7th Inning Stretch benefit concert that raised $2,000 that night and the opening day parade that also raised $2,000.
From Local Communities to UChicago
Kozlar has worked hard to encourage the University of Chicago to get involved. So far, he has raised $500 from the UChicago Medical Center and at least $200 from alumni for the Canaryville field renovations. A researcher at the University of Chicago Hospital even decided to donate the $200 necessary to sponsor a team.
Still looking for any donation, big or small, Kozlar uses publicity strategies and fundraising ideas he sees at the University of Chicago. He created Canaryville Little League Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube pages in addition to the league’s main website.
Other University of Chicago students have also taken on leadership positions in the Canaryville League. Of the 16 members on the Canaryville League Board, four are from the University of Chicago; the others come from the community. Now, there is even an RSO dedicated to the cause: the Chicago Innercity Development Association was approved this year and is quickly expanding. Their aim is to go around the Chicago neighborhoods and renovate one rundown athletic venue each year. “The University of Chicago should be a part of Chicago, not just in Chicago,” Kozlar said.