S.A.Y. Detroit

Lipke Park renovations gives Detroit youth place to play

January 10th, 2018

About S.A.Y Detroit

S.A.Y ("Super All Year") Detroit was formed in 2006 after author Mitch Albom challenged residents to support the homeless in the same spirit in which they had volunteered over a Super Bowl weekend. S.A.Y. Detroit serves as an umbrella organization for one of its major programs, S.A.Y. Play Center.

In the spring of 2017, S.A.Y. Detroit introduced co-ed baseball for a U10 and U12 team. With a high interest rate, the organization plans to form a softball team in the spring of 2018.

The Project

In 2014, Detroit's mayor asked S.A.Y. Detroit to re-open a shuttered recreation center as a premier training center for young people. The hope was to have youth be able to participate in fitness and sports in return for a commitment to earning at least a 3.0 GPA in school.

Lipke Park, a dilapidated field at the recreation center, was a focal point of the project. S.A.Y. Detroit wished to bring baseball to the northeast side of the city, a neighborhood that historically has been one of Detroit's most violent and challenged communities. The natural-grass youth baseball field would be renovated with the hope participation in baseball/softball would increase. In order to accomplish the task, S.A.Y. Detroit teamed up with Detroit PAL to create new youth baseball and softball teams comprised of children attending the center.

For funding of Lipke Park, S.A.Y. Detroit turned to BTF, the Detroit Tigers and Albom, as part of a larger $1.8 million renovation of the recreation center.

A 2016 BTF grant of $80,000 was used to renovate the diamond, which included infield work, drainage, replacement of a backstop, fencing repairs and the purchase of field maintenance equipment. The field was dedicated as The Honorable Judge Damon J. Keith Field.

Q&A with Mike Tenbusch

Tenbusch is the executive director of S.A.Y Detroit Play Center and author of "The Jonathan Effect," a guide for those wanting to make a difference in American cities.

How and when did you get involved or become interested in baseball?

Tenbusch: In 1997, I co-founded Think Detroit with Dan Varner to build character in young people through sports and leadership development. We started with a baseball league for 120 children that has grown to serve 1,500 young people in Detroit. With the support of BTF, we completed a $1.3 million renovation of four baseball diamonds on Detroit's riverfront in 2001, and we later merged with the Detroit Police Athletic League.

Describe your organization's staff structure.

Tenbusch: Mitch Albom is the chair of our board of directors, and we have four full-time staff and six part-time staff to deliver an after school program and summer camp experience to 400 people each year.

What was the biggest challenge for your organization?

Tenbusch: Unlike when we started 20 years ago, it was much harder to find quality coaches in or near the neighborhood we serve. We solved that when we learned that one of our bus drivers actually played in Think Detroit's baseball league early on and later developed into a college player under some of the best coaches in the league. He became our first coach and made all the difference.

What was the biggest challenge during the project?

Tenbusch: The biggest challenge was timing. We had an opportunity to host Pastor Joel Osteen from Lakewood Church in Houston a few weeks before the scheduled finish date. We decided to turn that into a Pastors vs. Police Charity Softball Game, which brought some much needed fun into some pretty tense times in the summer of 2016, just two weeks after police shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis, as well as shootings of police in Dallas, shook our nation.

How did the project affect your program?

Tenbusch: Some of our boys who struggle most with their emotions when they are hurt, frustrated or disappointed learned how important it is through baseball to take control of those emotions in order to play and do better. We have seen that stay with them long after the season ended.

What has been the most significant or important accomplishment of your organization?

Tenbusch: Our mission is to develop great readers, and this past year our students increased their average GPA in reading from a 2.5 at the beginning of the year to a 2.7 by the end of it.

What would you do differently with the project?

Tenbusch: We are a little bit landlocked, but I would try to get 30 more feet to the fences. We are a regulation 18U softball diamond and 12U baseball diamond. It would be good to have room for our older boys to keep playing here.

What's next for your organization?

Tenbusch: We are going to push for more gains in reading, a higher overall GPA (our current average is 2.6) and to demonstrate excellence in every sport or program we offer, from baseball to tap dancing.

What advice do you have for other organizations?

Tenbusch: Be clear about what your core values are. Don't have more than four of them, and then live them consistently. Invite anybody and everybody to join your mission, but only hire and develop staff and volunteers who show a desire to share and live your core values.