MEDFIELD, Mass. -- Through a solid upbringing, Mike Schell has always been one who has strived to help others.
The son of hard-working parents who were the first in their families to graduate with college degrees, Schell took the values learned at a young age and has carried them with him ever since.
Schell, a former standout baseball player at Holy Cross and current teacher and baseball coach at St. Sebastian’s Prep in Needham, believed baseball was the perfect avenue for him to assist others.
Two years ago he, along with Mike Ginns, partnered to form The Cannonball Foundation. The premise behind it was to provide student-athletes who come from urban communities the opportunity to play baseball at a competitive level while educating them in the college admissions process, prepping for SATs, applying for grants, scholarships, financial aid as well as nutrition, strength and conditioning.
While many teens are awarded the luxury of playing summer ball in select AAU programs and showcases with parents shelling out thousands of dollars, what happens to those who come primarily from households that average medium to low incomes that cannot afford it?
Enter The Cannonball Foundation.
“Our foundation is an opportunity for kids to learn, develop good character and leadership traits and play the game we all love and not having to break the bank when your parents are working as hard as they can just to make ends meet,” said Schell, speaking from the program’s home base at Sluggers Academy. “There are a lot of families who cannot afford to send their kid to an AAU program or a showcase. Here they can. We aren’t just focused on giving top-notch baseball training. We’re also going to talk about why academics is so important, and we are going to get you to understand the real-life alternative when you are helping a paraplegic, or a child in a wheel chair, down the first base line.”
As part of the foundation, Schell and Ginns developed The Cannonball Prospects -- an independent team made up of high school players with solid backgrounds from Massachusetts who play approximately 20 games in various high-profile tournaments and showcases in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Playing in these tournaments and showcases has given players an opportunity they wouldn’t have otherwise, to be seen by various collegiate programs.
“Without the Cannonball Foundation, my brother and I wouldn’t have been able to play in the big showcases in front of college coaches,” said Upper Cape Cod Tech infielder/pitcher Randy Frazier. “We’ve received great exposure and have been able to do community service in the process.”
Schell said he plans to add two more prospect teams to the mix next summer as well as a softball entry for girls.
The Cannonball Prospects is named after Will “Cannonball” Jackman, a former submarine-style pitcher from Texas who played in several Negro Leagues in the late 1920s including the Boston Royal Giants of the New England Negro League. While Schell was doing post-grad work at Tufts University, his research about the New England Negro League and Jackman in particular, and his ability to overcome numerous struggles along the way, inspired him.
With the foundation solely relying on donations from various groups and organizations, parents don’t have to fund for their child to play. What Schell asks for in return is for the players to donate time toward community service activities. Three charitable organizations The Cannonball Foundation serve are The Miracle League of Massachusetts, Hugs for Heroes and Special Olympics of Massachusetts.
“We have been very fortunate to have private donors,” Schell said. “We’ve made a promise to them that we are going to take this as far as we can. We are covering all of our costs and people are seeing our success. This is not a money-making operation for us and never will be. I feel everyone who has come through this foundation is better for it. Down the road I would like to have a prospects team in every state in New England. We are not here to compete with AAU. I want to collaborate with them.”
Schell adds, “We are trying to do the most good for the most people. We want to preserve dreams and goals these kids had when they were 12 years-old -- to go to college and become baseball players.
"Cannonball has given me the desire to strive for more," said Chelsea High infielder Carlos Vega.
Schell says that while The Cannonball Prospects are a selected-based team, the clinics they put on throughout the fall and winter months at Sluggers Academy that involves both baseball and academic preparation are open to anyone. More information can be attained at their website thecannonballfoundation.org.
“This is an incredible organization with highly-motivated people looking to provide families opportunities that would not be with their reach due to their financial situations,” Cannonball Prospects head coach Ron Frazier said. “We feel many college level players are being out-paid not outplayed. The mission stresses not only athletic excellence but also academic excellence and good citizenship.”