At age 14, Matt McCall became an Eagle Scout, a rare accomplishment typically achieved by young men three-to-four years older.
He also became founder and CEO of a youth baseball camp for underprivileged youths.
“Matt’s Bats” began as a service project in his quest for the Eagle badge. But excitement from the first camp in 2016 stuck with Matt, now 17, and a senior at Highland Park High School.
Planning is underway for a fourth camp this summer, sharing skills for baseball but also life, including hard work, self-esteem, and goal setting. It’s open to boys and girls, ages 8 to 13.
“The camp has just been taking me along with it,” Matt said. “It has been a crazy ride, but I’m glad I’ve been around for it.”
The first camp was on a single day for 20 youths. Last year it had grown to three days with about 50 campers at the Texas Rangers Youth Academy in West Dallas.
An original partner of the camp was Brother Bill’s Helping Hand, a faith-based non-profit, founded in the 1940s to provide medical care, food, and education for families in need.
Matt volunteered there with his parents, Alden and Judy, and consulted staffers about a possible Eagle project. They suggested a camp to teach soccer or basketball skills, but Matt knew little about those sports.
He did, however, love baseball.
“I thought introducing baseball in the West Dallas community would be a wonderful thing,” Matt said.
It hasn’t been without character-building adversity. Torrential rains and a marketing glitch prevented the second camp from getting underway in 2017, but Matt overcame discouragement, and the next two camps drew even more youths.
Matt also recruited an all-star roster of former and current professional athletes to help coach, including John Knox, a second baseman for the Detroit Tigers in the 1970s.
Other coaches were Jordan Smallwood, currently a wide receiver for the new XFL’s Los Angeles Wildcats, and his buddy, Anthony Mahoungou of Paris, France, a former Philadelphia Eagle.
“They, of course, had large bodies, enormous physical presences,” Matt said, “but the kids just gravitated toward them.”
Campers also gravitate to Matt, said Wes Keyes, executive director at Brother Bill’s.
“West Dallas is a unique place,” Keyes explained. “When Brother Bill started this ministry, it was still kind of the Wild West. I mean Bonnie and Clyde, for crying out loud, got their start over here. Crime has eased up, but poverty still exists everywhere we look.
“But Matt, interacting with these kids, he doesn’t bat an eye. He gets down to their level. Kids jump on his back, and he rides them around.”
As Matt contemplates where to attend college, and what he’ll study, he’s also trying to figure out how to keep the camp going in West Dallas, and possibly start a similar program in his future college town.
Memories will sustain his vision.
“I just remember all those smiling faces, seeing so many kids happy, playing my sport,” Matt said.