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One of Bryan Howse’s passions is baseball. The other is volunteering and helping children.
The local grade school administrator who coached high school ball for five years at Riverview Gardens, Francis Howell Central and Marquette, was excited to sign his son up to play the game.
But as the O’Fallon father of three dove into the competitive baseball world with his kids, he felt there was something missing. He wanted his children to know there’s more to being on a team than just playing hard and winning the game.
So, last summer Howse formed Missouri Stixx, a select baseball team in St. Charles County that focuses on the fundamentals of baseball, and taking time to help others.
“We want to teach our kids character and life lessons through service projects and relate those to what takes place on the field,” Howse said. “Because life throws pretty sharp curves at you just like in a game, and you have to be ready to respond and keep your head up and help others."
Stepping to the plate
Howse started with one 11-and-under (11U) team in July 2011. Last month he teamed up with friend and fellow-coach Scott Swift to form an organization that consists of 11U, 9U and 8U teams.
In January, during winter training, players and their families took time to participate in the first of many planned community service projects.
A group of about 30 volunteers, including boys from the 11U team and their parents, helped out at Operation Food Search last month. The volunteers marked food labels and helped package the items to feed those in need throughout St. Charles County.
“The kids felt it in their heart, they were not only helping kids in St. Charles County, but kids their own age,” Howse said. “It was moving and growing for our kids and our families. These boys are giving up their nighttime of playing video games and doing other things kids are doing, and they are passionate about serving their community.”
Howse said the Missouri Stixx teams are gearing up for their first season, which will include 11 local tournaments and two out of state this summer. The coaches strive to plan time for a service project every other month.
Missouri Stixx has already reached out to local churches and the May Center at SSM DePaul Health Center in Bridgeton to find other volunteer opportunities.
Howse said the team focuses on baseball skills and encouraging Christian principals, good character off the field and believing in yourself.
Before each game players and coaches lead the team in a prayer.
The team saying is printed across their practice shirts: You Gotta Believe.
All in the family
Missouri Stixx parents say they are drawn to the team because of the baseball and life skills their children are learning, as well as the opportunity for family involvement.
Swift met Howse while coaching his son and nephew’s baseball team. In January he jumped at the chance to help form Missouri Stixx and coach the 9U team.
“Brian is just a wonderful person, with wonderful beliefs,” he said, adding that he liked the idea of encouraging the kids to think about who they are as athletes and people.
“It goes beyond big projects, sometimes it’s just helping the kid in classroom who sits near you and isn’t making friends easily,” Swift said. “It’s not always about a big project, but being aware of who you are as a person.”
Matthew Haulk and James Stephens, both assistant coaches for the 11U team, agree with the organization's "more than baseball" approach.
Haulk said it was Howse’s approach of teaching more than just baseball that attracted him to Missouri Stixx.
“Some other teams out there, all they want to do is win, win, win,” Haulk said. “We didn’t really want to be a part of that.”
He is looking forward to the teams participating in more community outreach opportunities after seeing the effect the Operation Food Search project had on he athletes.
“They hadn’t realized that even though we live in a nice area there are still people in need,” he said. “This other skill we’re teaching them, they can carry that past the baseball and apply that to their life.”
Stephens said he was drawn to Missouri Stixx because it’s difficult to find a Christian-based and community-oriented activity for children. He joined the team because of the combined opportunity to build on baseball skills and fundamental principals.
“It’s not so much about becoming great baseball players, but becoming great men,” he said.
Howse said Missouri Stixx is hoping to grow as an organization at each level of youth baseball.