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Spreading sunshine
Thanks to generous folks, kids have a shot through Sunshine Park

Date published: 7/2/2013

IT'S EASY to complain about the next generation--their fashions, their music, their "irresponsibility." It takes time, money, and most of all, heart, to invest in them. The Fredericksburg region is blessed that two well-known benefactors, and a lot more less-well-known good-hearted folks, have chosen to do just that.

Fredericksburg may be a solid 100 miles of heavy traffic away from Baltimore but the fame of the Ripken name easily traveled this far, thanks to the four-decade involvement of the Ripken family with the Baltimore Orioles. So when Cal Ripken Jr. approached Fredericksburg in 2006, offering to establish a youth program here as part of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation's Swing for Tomorrow Program, he needed no introduction.

The purpose of the program would not be to develop Major League Baseball players, but major league people, said the Ripken Foundation's Mike Adams at that time. Indeed, the value of sports in developing self-discipline, cooperation, and good sportsmanship is well-established. And who better than the Iron Man of baseball, Cal Ripken, known for his work ethic, to promote that cause?

But programs take a lot of money and Fredericksburg was not the only city in which the Ripken Foundation wanted to work. Enter local philanthropist Doris Buffett. Ms. Buffett established a challenge gift of $1 million for the project. Her generosity, and the robust response from the community, put legs on the Ripken project.

The result: Sunshine Park, dedicated last August, is a baseball/softball complex in the Bragg Hill area dedicated to helping the next generation grow up with healthy bodies and healthy values. Last fall, kids teamed up with some University of Mary Washington student-athletes to capture a vision for the importance of a college education. More recently, Stafford County deputies held a sports/mentoring week there. The Spotsylvania County Sheriff's Office is on deck.

Sports isn't all that's offered at Sunshine Park. The Undersea Exploration Facility, one of only three, is a project of famed undersea explorer Robert Ballard that allows kids to learn about the wonders of the deep. Also in the Education Center, kids can learn about nutrition and other healthy living habits.

Cal Ripken Sr. died in 1999. Thomas Boswell, writing in the Washington Post the next day, offered a retrospective of the Orioles' longtime player/manager/coach: "The idea that a person could find deep satisfaction through fulfilling difficult responsibilities--while never focusing on personal rewards--seems antique these days. Yet Ripken's example makes you wonder if the century, not Senior, has lost its way."

Thanks to the Ripken Foundation and Ms. Buffett and hundreds of others who, with no thought of personal reward, have dedicated themselves to the difficult task of helping Fredericksburg area kids grow up, "the century" just might find its way back.