Baseball changing lives, building character at Epps Island Elementary
Teaching America's favorite pastime for students at Epps Island Elementary is a dream come true for Bill Cramer.
Cramer, a fourth-grade teacher at the school, grew up in the shadows of Chicago's Wrigley Field and watched some of the greats such as Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays play as a child.
"Baseball is a great game and a constructive outlet for kids," said Cramer in a news release. "I developed my love for baseball playing as a child, and I just wanted to do something to get our kids involved in an athletic activity after school that would be fun for them as well."
Cramer started a baseball club three years ago at Epps Island and paid for 18 baseball mitts and three bats out of his own pocket.
"The students love to go, and it has become a highly anticipated activity for all throughout the year," added Epps Island Principal Kristin Bevan. "Games are really exciting to watch as lots of parents, teachers and team cheerleaders come out to root for the students. We appreciate all Mr. Cramer's efforts and enthusiasm that he has put into this project."
The club has grown extensively over the years, with the nearly 50 fourth- and fifth-grade boys and girls divided into four teams during the fall and spring seasons. The teams play at the sandlot behind the school on Wednesdays and Thursdays. All participants must maintain excellent grades and citizenship in order to play.
"Playing sports is a great way to bond with kids of all ages, and it has turned out to be a real positive character-building tool for these students," Cramer said. "There are several life lessons that can be learned in baseball and in all sports. Many students have stepped up as leaders and have broken out of their shells in the club. It's also really great to watch the kids cheer each other on and take an active interest in the successes of one another.
"It is such a joy to see a kid who has been struggling all season to finally find themselves and start hitting the ball and making great plays in the field," he continued. "It is such a confidence builder, and it helps let them know that they can make a big difference in something if they stick with it and work hard."
During the year, Cramer writes summaries after each game for the next morning's announcements at school. He comes up with nicknames for those who hit home runs or made great plays in the field.
Fifth-grade teacher Brent Powell helps coach the teams, and Cramer's wife, Laura, is the official scorekeeper.
Cramer has been teaching fourth-grade science and social studies at Epps Island for the past four years. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State, became a geologist and later worked as a manager for a trucking company for more than 20 years. The furthest he got in baseball was in his neighborhood sandlot, but his knowledge of the game is second to none.
"I love teaching and always wanted to teach," Cramer said in the same news release. "It's great getting to work with kids, and there is not a day that goes by that I don't want to be here. I find a lot of truth to the statement, 'Baseball is life,' and these kids are living proof.
"Seeing the look on their faces when they hit the ball or make a big catch, it's all the reward I could have asked for."
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