The International Association of Firefighters' Local #4303 union has been making a concerted effort to reach out to the Juneau community. Having just concluded their annual "Fill the Boot" benefit for the Alaska Chapter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, they have elected to sponsor a team in the Gastineau Channel Little League, the Orioles.
The Orioles are coached by Mary Johns, the wife of Jayme Johns, a firefighter and one of the 36 union members responsible for the sponsorship.
"I think mostly it's just that they've been wanting to do something; they have this money and they thought it would be a good thing to do (to sponsor the team) since some of the firefighters have kids on the team," said Mary Johns.
The Gastineau Channel Little League depends entirely on sponsors; each team has one that covers the cost of their jerseys, and sponsors also help offset other league costs as well. The only fee that parents pay to have their kids play, beside the cost of a glove, is $5 to help offset charges for online registration.
Baseball and firefighting appear to go hand in hand for a couple of the families on the team. Paralleling the Johns family, the Orioles' assistant coach Erin Russell and her firefighting husband Eric have a son, Toby, on the team. And another team dad is Travis Mead, the public relations representative for the firefighter's union, whose kids Eli and Samantha play alongside Matthew and Toby.
Roy Johnston, the president of the union, said that the union has been making strong efforts to do community outreach, assisting with the St. Baldrick's Foundation's fundraising for childhood cancer research and sponsoring the firepole (go figure) at Project Playground at Twin Lakes. He said that Travis approached him with the idea of sponsoring the team, and that since the idea seemed solid, they went for it.
The union wrote a check for $350 to purchase jerseys for the team, emblazoned with "Orioles" on the front and "Firefighters' Local #4303" on the back. They're also currently discussing plans for an end of the year barbecue or Bullwinkle's Pizza party, depending on the weather, of course.
Johnston said that if the sponsorship goes well and there are no conflicts of interest between the union and the team, it's possible that they will continue to fund a Little League team in the future.
"It's all part of our public outreach and giving back to the community," he said.