A Helping Hand

Most of the time this space is devoted to writing about a celebrated high school athlete who might end up playing for the University of Arkansas.

One who after his high school career will then step up and accept a scholarship - one providing a full ride - to the college of his choice.

But today's column will focus on one young man who didn't get that chance and those who are honoring his memory and by doing so, helping others get the chance to succeed.

Matt Siebenmorgen passed away last year after his senior year ended. The end came suddenly and unexpected for those of us who were fortunate enough to know him.

While I have great memories of Fayetteville High athletes that have gone on to become Razorbacks such as Ronnie Brewer, Wallace Spearmon, Cedric Logan and UA Diamond Hogs Blake Parker and Ben Tschipekow, none of those outshine the memories that Siebenmorgen left on me as a youth baseball umpire at Walker Park in Fayetteville.

Siebenmorgen was a very polite young man who was gracious with the young ballplayers and coaches alike - even some of us who might have gotten into the event a little too much sometime.

He left a wealth of fond memories to those lucky enough to have been around him and that is why Fayetteville Youth Baseball, Inc. wanted to honor him in a tangible way according to board member Robert Gibson.

"It all started last summer as baseball was getting wound up and I was looking in the papers and seeing where kids were getting scholarships to go play at different schools," Gibson said. "The thought just occurred to me that why can't Fayetteville Youth Baseball do something like that? I called (fellow board member) Terry Lawson and ran the idea by him and he said 'that's a great idea, let's do that.'"

Unlike football and basketball players, NCAA rules don't allow baseball players to get handed full rides like their counterparts.

In fact, a school like Arkansas must fit all of it's players - 25-plus players - into just over 11 scholarships and it gets even less farther down the food chain.

"We'd like for it to be a kid that is going on to play baseball at the University of Arkansas or Crowder (Community College) or wherever," Gibson said. "Baseball has limited scholarships for their teams. Baseball is such a great sport and who knows we might help some kid go to college that might not be able to get there and who knows maybe he gets all the way to the majors.

It just so happened that Siebenmorgen had passed away a few days earlier and a decision was made to name the scholarship after him.

"He came up through the system, both as a player and an umpire," Gibson said. "What a great kid. The way I judge kids and young adults is how they act when mom and dad aren't around. Matt was always yes sir, no sir and just a joy to be around. All the players on field 3 liked him, the coaches enjoyed him and the parents did as well. He was a great kid. It was sad that someone 18 years old was taken away, but sometime we don't understand the reasons things happen."

The movement then approached Siebemorgen's parents and they were receptive.

"We talked to the family and they gave us their blessing and that's how this whole thing basically got started," Gibson said. "Basically what we want to do is help kids further their education. We've got so many great kids at the league and the only requirement is the financial need and they have to have played in our system."

Matt has certainly not been forgotten this summer at Walker Park.

"Matt's parents have been very gracious," Gibson said. "They bought all the umpires jackets this year and are providing them with all the Gatorade and things they need for the entire year. (Umpires chief) Tommy (Reddick) asked the family if they could put his initials on their shirts.

"We have had a lot of good support from the community so far," Gibson said. "Basically right now we are continuing to raise money and we hope to give a couple of scholarships to some kids this summer and see what happens from there."

Those wishing to help out - or apply - will soon be able to do so at www.fybaseball.com, going to the Fayetteville High counselor's office or calling Gibson at 313-3733.

"It's a grassroots thing and we are just getting started," Gibson said. "But we hope what we do will be a help for a lifetime."

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