Rich Naponelli never imagined the impact the MCYSA Summer International Tournament scholarship program would have on so many families over 20 years when he first joined the group.
Naponelli didn’t even plan on the program lasting 20 years.
But what started as a program that awarded a couple baseball players each year with a college scholarship has evolved into one that’s celebrating 20 years at this summer’s tournament, having awarded nearly $100,000 to local players, volunteers and home stay family members.
“It’s a humbling experience…” said Naponelli, who serves as the program’s chairman. “We’ve been fortunate enough to have a successful tournament throughout all these years, which generates the revenue and generates the scholarship opportunities.”
Naponelli joined as chairman when the program started in 2003 after serving as a tournament board member. The board started awarding two scholarships to local payers each year. The scholarships expanded to six recipients five years ago to include four players, one volunteer and one home stay family member.
Each year approximately 20 applicants submit their applications and essays describing why they should receive a $1,000 scholarship. The five-member committee reviews the essays and applications and looks at school activities each applicant participates in, how involved they are in the community and their participation in the tournament and what it means to them.
The scholarship was renamed in Justin Schroeder’s honor right after the Crystal Lake South alumnus died in a car accident in April 2003 at the age of 20. His parents Kevin and Cathy participate in the ceremony each year.
The 2022 award winners include players John Ahler (Marian Central), Jack Hayden (Marian Central), Zackary Michaels (Crystal Lake South) and Joey Scaravalle (Crystal Lake Central), volunteer Mitchell Helm (Crystal Lake Central) and home stay family member Avery Crabill (Woodstock North). The recipients, who all must be enrolled in an undergraduate college in the upcoming year, will be awarded their scholarships at 7 p.m. July 21 during the opening ceremonies of the tournament’s second session.
Crabill and her family have hosted team members from different countries since 2015. At first she wasn’t open to the idea, but once the first players came, she quickly changed her mind.
“Over those two weeks, they became like big brothers,” Crabill said. “I wouldn’t change that for the world. Saying yes was amazing.”
Crabill recently graduated from Woodstock North and will attend Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. She was grateful to earn a scholarship after what the tournament has meant to her.
“To be able to watch the championship, watch the games be brought together, it takes a lot of time,” Crabill said. “Just being able to take a couple kids in and help them play here, to get that (scholarship), it helped a lot and it made me feel helping those kids is even more special.”
The scholarship program has grown throughout the years, but the mission of helping those who love the tournament and their community has continued.
Helm has umpired since he was 13 and umpires the tournament as part of the Fox Valley Blues, a local umpiring organization.
Helm knows how important the tournament and scholarship programs remain to so many local families.
“The fact that it’s been going on for 20 years is incredible,” Helm said. “I hope that they can do another 20 years.”
That sense of community is why the scholarship program is so important to both committee members and recipients. Most of the committee members have been involved with the program from the beginning and cherish the opportunity to give back to the community.
“It’s been a fun process,” Naponelli said. “It’s not work, that’s for sure.”
Source: The Daily Chronicle