Encinitas Little League played reliever this month, leading an equipment drive for Paradise Little Little League families who lost everything in the devastating Camp Fire last November.
Kevin Burke, an Encinitas Little League (ELL) coach and board member, helped organize the drive that brought the entire North County baseball community together to collect a van full of bats, gloves, helmets, buckets of baseballs and boxes of cleats that were delivered up north on Jan. 19. An All Star effort from an All Star coach.
A native of Chico, Burke was inspired to take action after watching the Camp Fire from afar in “shock and horror” —so many people he knew were affected by the fires, posting images and heartbreaking stories on Facebook.
After the shock wore off and reality set in, Burke and his 14-year-old son Joe, a student at Oak Crest Middle School, decided to reach out to Paradise Little League and Paradise High School to see what they could do to help out from their home base.
“We won the support of ELL to start a grassroots effort to reach out to our rival leagues and softball leagues and unite to get Paradise to play ball this season,” said Burke who has been involved with ELL since his son was in t-ball. “Over 500 little league families lost their homes and all their possessions, and PLL thought it best that equipment and money would help the most.”
Several leagues participated in the drive— Poway American Little League collected equipment from the East County, and Encinitas had local collection days where families from Del Mar American, Carmel Mountain Ranch, Encinitas National and Solana Beach Little Leagues came with their outgrown equipment.
Softball leagues such as San Dieguito Girls Softball and Poway Girls Softball also donated gear. San Dieguito High School Academy and its families were also very generous with their donations, Burke said.
“It was such a sight seeing the whole baseball/softball community of North County rally around this cause. Our local kids learned the importance of helping others and empathizing with their peers up north,” Burke said. “The Paradise kids, in turn, will indeed be able to play this year and get some semblance of ‘normal’, albeit, they will have to play in the nearby town of Chico this year (until the fields are restored in Paradise).”
Chaz Gagne, who still coaches in Encinitas Little League although his youngest child is now a senior at San Dieguito, drove the full van up north with his son Billy, a former Encinitas little leaguer who now attends Chico State. Billy Gagne’s fraternity, Sigma Chi, many of whom are North County natives, unloaded the van into Paradise Little League’s storage on a wet and rainy day.
“It was so cool to see all of San Diego support along the way,” Burke said. “We live in a great baseball community and we saw that in action this month.”
Paradise Little League has set up its own Go Fund Me account at gofundme.com/paradise-little-league-camp-fire-relief