Ripken Foundation Builds First Youth Development Park on Native American Reservation

By Lily Baughan

September 28, 2022

In this month’s feature story, we would like to highlight our Youth Development Park initiative and its impact on rural communities in need of clean, safe places to play and learn. Thanks to the Colville Business Council (CBC) and the State of Washington, this year we broke ground on our first Youth Development Park field on a Native American Reservation in partnership with the Colville Tribes located in Nespelem, WA.

During the grand opening ceremony in September, members of the Colville Tribes and the CBC participated in a blessing song for the field. The song “gives thanks and is supposed to protect the families on the field. It also blesses the ground so that it may be a good gathering spot for the people of Nespelem to be safe and have fun,” explained Bill Tsoukalas, the Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County-Nespelem. pic1

As a tribute to the benefactor, Gilbert Disautel, who built the original community field in the 1980s, his son, Junior Disautel, threw out the first pitch and cut the ribbon. After the grand opening ceremony, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation held a youth versus Council kickball game where attending youth from the community went head-to-head against members of the CBC. Following the kickball game, the field was opened up to everyone in the community for a friendly kickball/softball pick-up game. The celebration was capped off with a family movie night on the field. These activities helped showcase the endless possibilities for community events at the field. 

Members of the Nespelem community reminisced about playing on the original field before it became worn over time and are thrilled that future generations will be able to create the same memories. “I played softball on that field back when it was in good shape," said Colville Business Council member Jack Ferguson. “We really appreciate this investment in our community. It will really improve downtown Nespelem and give the kids something to look at, be proud of, and actually use,” he continued. 

Tsoukalas revealed that the field was in need of repair and had not been used in many years. He hopes that this new field will be the "bright spot” for the area and will regenerate the community. When asked how this field will impact the community over the next five years, Tsoukalas responded with two words: “Game Changer.” He continued, saying “the kids right now that want to play softball or baseball have to travel a significant distance.” Bill believes this field will increase participation in sports and that “now they have a home field to come back to” instead of traveling 30 to 50 miles just for practice.

Jarred-Michael Erickson, Colville Business Council Chairman said, “We are very pleased to bring a softball field back to Nespelem and to make it better than before. Facilities like this, which are fun and also promote health and fitness,pic4 are important parts of any community. Our youth and elders alike will be able to enjoy this project for many years to come.” The Confederated Tribes of Colville Reservation are excited about the opportunities this field will bring to the community of Nespelem and are looking to partner again to address the needs in two of their other communities, Inchelium and Keller. 

Chuck Brady, EVP of Strategic Initiatives & Resource Development at the Ripken Foundation, expressed how thrilled the Foundation is to be working on this field. “We’re excited to be part of this project. The Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation was founded about 20 years ago by baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. when the Ripken family lost Cal Ripken, Sr. to cancer. The Ripken family wanted to keep the legacy of Cal Ripken, Sr. alive, and they wanted to use that legacy to help children across the country.”

Over the last 20 years, the Ripken Foundation has been able to expand our programs across the country to address the needs of underserved youth. In 2010, the Ripken Foundation opened our very first Youth Development Park at Memorial Field at the Y in Baltimore. Twelve years later, we are still hitting milestones. In 2022, we began work on six new Youth Development Parks, bringing our grand total to 112, including 19 Adaptive Fields for kids with special needs. To date, over 500,000 at-risk youth have access to recreational, educational, and athletic experiences at one of our Youth Development Parks in 26 states and Washington, D.C.