Baseball is known as our national pastime, as American as apple pie, and this weekend, the American spirit was alive and well on the diamond at University Park as the Penn State baseball team held its Wounded Warrior Project Benefit Game.
Wearing camouflage jersey tops, the Nittany Lions battled Michigan State, reminding fans of the young men and women who have been injured while battling enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan. The jerseys are being auctioned off on GoPSUsports.com, part of the effort to raise funds and awareness for this important project. In addition, Penn State is also donating a portion of the ticket sales and proceeds from a silent auction held during the game.
The day also featured pre-game ceremonies honoring veterans as well as current military personnel for the sacrifices they've all made fighting for their country.
The Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) is a non-profit organization dedicated to "honoring and empowering wounded warriors" of the United States Armed Forces. The project helps provide important services to injured heroes, including support groups for the service personnel and their caregivers and help returning to the civilian workforce. WWP also serves as an advocate for military personnel and helps warriors understand and receive their VA benefits, and perhaps most importantly, making sure that casualties of war aren't forgotten.
Chris Swales from Centre Hall is one of those Wounded Warriors. Swales was serving in Iraq in 2005 as part of the 25th Infantry Division Stryker Brigade when he was shot in the leg. Back in the states, Penn State Coach Terri Jordan invited him to try wheelchair basketball, giving him the itch to participate in sports again. Today, Swales is one of Penn State's Ability Athletes, who now competes in throwing and weightlifting events, while spreading a positive message of overcoming adversity.
The Wounded Warrior Project extols the virtues of fun, integrity, loyalty, innovation and service; Swales relates all of those themes to both his military and athletic experiences. Both arenas, sports and war, teach the importance of dedication, teamwork and sacrifice in the pursuit of our goals.
Major League Baseball is also onboard to help the Wounded Warriors. The Players Association recently donated $100,000 to the project, and launched an exclusive line of military-themed baseball products to benefit WWP, sporting names and numbers of some of the game's biggest stars.
Baseball has taken a beating in recent years, thanks to the steroid scandal, but projects like this remind us of the impact sports can make for the greater good.
The Nittany Lions have known for a long time that the university's athletic programs can make a difference: from football support for victims of the Virginia Tech massacre, to basketball campaigns against cancer, and now in baseball's efforts for Wounded Warriors, all good reasons to be Penn State proud.
Kellie Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.