There seems to be a general feeling in this country these days that getting things done and making a difference is an impossible thing. When the United States Congress itself seems unable to get anything done, what chance do small groups or ordinary citizens have to make a difference? The odds are so stacked against that happening that most people wouldn’t even think of wasting their time trying.
But sometimes even legislative accomplishments come from the darndest places.
In 2017, Cooperstown Elementary School teacher Anne Reis was leading her fourth-grade class through a study of state government in New York. During a section on state symbols, the kids learned New York had no official state sport. They concluded there should be one and it should be baseball.
Reis inspired her young charges to dream big and take action and they got to work researching baseball’s influence in and on New York’s history, economy and culture. They wrote essays on the sport’s numerous qualifications for official designation, and they sent them all to Albany.
Upon hearing from the fourth graders, then-Sen. Jim Seward championed the initiative and introduced Senate Bill S4288 to make baseball the official state sport and quickly shepherded the bill to passage in the Senate. Following roadblocks in the Assembly and the retirement of Sen. Seward, his successor, Sen. Peter Oberacker, took up the challenge and the bill was passed in both houses during the most recent 2021 legislative session — the fifth session of the bill’s life.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law Friday, July 30, making baseball the state sport. This is only the 19th entry on the list of official New York things. We are only the 16th state to have a state sport. Following the signing, Cuomo tweeted “Thank you to the fourth grade class of Cooperstown Elementary School for stepping up to the plate and proposing this bill.”
The students, who are now in high school, have become something of local heroes and should be deservedly proud. Reis said their “following the legislative process and finally seeing the bill signed into law has been an exhilarating learning experience.”
For most of us, any attempt to recall our own fourth-grade accomplishments — getting to fifth grade may well top any list — is most often a fruitless exercise. The students in Reis’ fourth-grade class will not only carry the memory of this historic feat throughout their lives, but will doubtless be remembered in successive generations, passed on at countless future ballgames by children and grandchildren ad infinitum, as these local heroes take their rightful place amongst our many revered local legends.
Speaking of legends, there’s our own, beautiful Mudville, where new joy arrives as a local, homegrown effort by an inspired rising generation has brought with it a great new tribute not only to the sport but also to Cooperstown and its Hall of Fame, the spiritual and eternal home of our new state sport. Perhaps a place in the hallowed Hall could be made for Reis and her troupe of inventive, inspired and intrepid young trailblazers.
Watch out, Sandlot, there are new kids in town.
These students have learned from this endeavor one very valuable lesson: nothing worthwhile is a waste of time, and everything worthwhile is worth the fight. They have shown that even a slightly moribund government will respond when a request is earnest, heartfelt and justified.
Perhaps it’s time we grownups take note.