Harrison Royals Bring International Flavor To Little League

The team poses for a group photo.

The Lakewood Rec under-8 baseball league has a new team this year, and it’s different than any in the city’s history. The Royals, a team of Harrison Elementary students, is comprised primarily of immigrant kids, many of them refugees. The roster has players from Nepal, Iraq, Burma, Bhutan, Palestine, and India. All but two of the students are refugees or immigrants. Two are brand new to the US this year. Two Turkish-American players were born in the US, since their parents have been in the United States for around 8 years.

The team is the brainchild of Harrison E.L.L. teacher Tiffany Hickey. A fifth-year teacher at the school, Hickey works with students learning English as their second language. She wanted a fun way that the kids could be active and learn during the summer months. She realized that a little league baseball team could be the way to go. She reached out to Mark McNamara, her brother-in-law. McNamara has coached youth baseball teams for around 15 years, ever since his son first played. He agreed to serve as coach, and the idea took shape.

Building the team was no simple feat, and required the help of many folks at Harrison. Many of the kids don’t have internet service in their homes, so getting them signed up required some leg work. The kids also needed to pass physicals in order to play. School staff helped get all of them to an exam so that they would be eligible.

Once the team got together for practice, McNamara realized he was in for a challenge. Most of these players had absolutely no knowledge of baseball, so he had to start from the ground up. Fortunately his daughter Deidre, a student at Cleveland State, has been a loyal helper. Together they taught the kids everything from “which hand to put the glove on” to “which way to run after you hit the ball.” The league is non-competitive, so the kids have been able to learn the game as they go.  

The McNamaras have enjoyed working with the kids. “They all have big personalities,” says Deidre, who has enjoyed watching the kids grow as friends and players. Mark is impressed with the kids’ enthusiasm, especially when they worked with older, more experienced players. The Royals have had practice clinics with both the Lakewood High School and St. Edward baseball programs. “They really respond to the teenagers,” he said.

As with most teams their age, the highlight of every Royals game is the postgame outing. The team regularly goes to The Gorilla for ice cream. Hickey and the coaches shepherd the kids to Birdtown for some group bonding over slushies and waffle fries. The Royals have built a cult following: in addition to players’ families, games are often attended by Harrison teachers and staff. About one-quarter of Harrison’s student body have English as a second language, so the team is a good representative of the school. Community members have also rallied around the Royals. For example, former Ward 4 Council Member Mary Louise Madigan has cheered them on at games.      

The team’s first season has been a success. They are undefeated (because there’s no scorekeeping at this level) and the kids are having a lot of fun. Hickey is hopeful that the team will return next year…perhaps with a few changes. Girls are eligible to play in this league, and Hickey is hopeful that some will play on the Royals.

Mike Deneen

Mike Deneen has extensive experience covering sports and community stories for the Lakewood Observer. Mike has been a Senior Industry Analyst for the Freedonia Group in Cleveland, Ohio, since 1998. He has appeared on CNBC’s Closing Bell, NPR’s MarketPlace and has been quoted multiple times in The Wall Street Journal. He has made multiple guest appearances on ESPN Cleveland radio. Mike also writes for Inside Northwestern, a website that covers Northwestern Wildcat Athletics. You can reach him on Twitter at @MikeDeneen1 

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Volume 13, Issue 14, Posted 12:35 PM, 07.18.2017