“When I was 9, I met Stan Musial. I met him again when I was 14. He attended a game I was pitching and told me, ‘You’re going to make it to the pros.’”
Dick pitched in high school at Republic, then pitched for four years at Southwest Missouri State University for Coach Rowe (Day #66). As a freshman, pitching in his very first collegiate game, Dick took a no-hitter into the 9th inning.
“I knew the first hitter. We had played against each other in high school. He dropped down a bunt and I threw him out at first, but he was called safe…”
As a junior, Dick posted a 7 – 2 record with a 0.59 ERA — second best in the nation that year. His senior year, however, he injured his arm which pretty much ended his professional aspirations.
It was while he was at SMSU that A Sporting Chance was born, even if it didn’t come to be a reality for another 20 years. The baseball team was on a break because of bad weather. Dick and some teammates were bowling when a bus pulled in to the parking lot. The people exiting the bus had various disabilities, wheelchairs and crutches and walkers. One of the employees asked if the ballplayers wanted to stay and help out, and Dick agreed. He was paired with a man using a walker who was having great difficulty not throwing gutter balls.
“I gave him some pointers and he started knocking down a couple of pins. And then he got a strike and kissed me on the lips. He was so excited for that strike and I have never forgotten that, it really got to me.”
Because of his experience, Dick started volunteering for the park board and the Special Olympics. From those experiences came A Sporting Chance (ASC), which is now celebrating its 25th year of working with athletes throughout southwest Missouri. Dick has been the Executive Director for all 25 years.
ASC’s goal is to make sure any person with any disability gets to compete, either in competitive or in recreational sports. Dick mentioned that Addi (Day #76) is one of ASC’s athletes.
“Twenty-five years ago, out of the 30 known disabilities, only 4 qualified to participate in the Special Olympics. We wanted to provide a way for anyone to participate and compete in sports.”
ASC now serves 26 counties with hundreds of partner organizations.
In Springfield alone, there are:
77 basketball teams;
36 volleyball teams;
40 softball and tee ball teams;
92 golfers at Horton Smith;
the last bowling tournament had 680 athletes;
and then Track and Field.
“Track and Field is the big one. It’s at the junior high in Branson. There’s usually 1,000 athletes who’ll compete and stay the night, then go to Silver Dollar City or a variety of shows.”
Not counting celebrations or fundraisers, ASC programs 48 weeks each year with seasonal sports just like high school.
“The only stumbling block is finances. For example, we rent this gym for basketball, four nights a week, five hours a night, for nine weeks. That’s just one gym. We use four during the season.”
One of the board members told me that Dick doesn’t take a salary.
“He works 60 hours a week with no pay. His golf habit has to come out of his own pocket.”
“ASC is here to be a positive force in the community and we’re doing it through sports. I have a feeling you know exactly what I’m talking about,” Dick said. “If I took a salary, the programs would suffer.”
I met one referee, one coach, and at least a half dozen other ASC volunteers who all told me the same thing — the joy of volunteering for ASC is contagious.
Dick and I spread out across the basketball gym that was decorated for the 25th anniversary celebration.
“I played catch a couple of years ago, with some of our softball players.”
A steady stream of people entered while we tossed the ball. Dick even threw a couple of curves my direction, which was his best pitch during his SMSU years.
“I’m dreaming of doing this for another 25 years. I’ll only be 93.”
To donate to A Sporting Chance visit: www.asportingchance.net or
P. O. Box 11337
Springfield, MO 65808-1337