- Associated Press - Sunday, August 3, 2014

PARAGOULD, Ark. (AP) - Andy Runyan and Murray Watts learned important life lessons growing up playing sports.

Together, the former Arkansas State baseball players are hoping to insure that any child who wants to play sports will get the same chances they received, the Jonesboro Sun reported (http://bit.ly/1kkAF1n ).

In a world where a new baseball bat could cost up to $300 and new basketball and football shoes can run well over $120, it is an unfortunate fact that some children aren’t afforded the chance to play youth sports because the price to play is too high.

Sports equipment, like almost everything else, has drastically risen in cost in recent years.

Runyan and Watts are hoping to give people who are in need of sports equipment a place to find it - at no cost.

“We both got to travel, we got to see parts of the country, (and) we got to meet people. Our experience was so outstanding from that end and we want other kids to be able to experience the same things that we did and if the ball never gets rolling when they’re kids then how do you end up here?” said Runyan while at the ASU baseball complex. “If that stopped because of finances when they’re nine, how can you get here to ASU?”

Through a small group in their church, the Fellowship Bible Church in Paragould, the duo have partnered with several of their friends to form Locker 10:34, an outreach mission designed to provide used or new sports equipment to children who can’t afford it.

They have a storage unit in Paragould, generously donated by Glen and Holly Burnett at Paragould Storage, and they are hoping that over the next few months the program can get off the ground and begin helping those in need.

The name of their organization is inspired by a passage in the Bible, Luke 10:34, which is the story of the good Samaritan.

In the story, Jesus tells of how two men pass by another man in need before a third man comes and helps the man.

On its website, Locker 10:34 says its goal is to “bandage the wounds” of youth sports in our area when it comes to kids who can’t afford to play.

And they’re counting on the generous public of Northeast Arkansas to play a role by donating old equipment.

Watts, a former Jonesboro High School and Arkansas State standout, played professionally in the Kansas City Royals organization while Runyan has spent the past few years coaching high school baseball.

As a high school coach, Runyan said his teams would often have players who might have over $1,000 worth of equipment in their bag along with players who owned nothing more than an old glove and an old pair of shoes.

Watts said as he was growing up he remembers the old baseball equipment piling up around his house.

“You have all that leftover stuff because the way things go in baseball and other sports too like basketball, you wear your shoes for the season and you’ve either grown out of them or it’s time for a new pair of shoes, and now what are you going to do with them,” he said.

After some brainstorming together, the two realized that if they could find a way to get people to donate their old sports gear they aren’t using, they could give it away to kids who need it. They decided on five sports to begin with: baseball, softball, football, basketball and soccer.

The process of tracking down used equipment is already underway, and monitory donations can also be given to Locker 10:34.

Runyan said any money that is donated will go through the church, and all of it intended for Locker 10:34 will go to purchasing equipment and paying fees for local teams.

“Any financial donations we get are going to go through Fellowship Bible Church and 100 percent of that will be earmarked to Locker 10:34 and the reason we are doing that is they have 501 C free status, so if anybody does want to donate they’ll be able to write it off because it does have 501 C free status,” he said. “And, 100 percent of the money will go to equipment and fees and things like that, we are not taking any kind of salary.”

The group has no operating costs, and no one will draw a salary, which allows all donations to go into the purchasing of needed equipment.

Watts became aware of the cost of youth sports equipment when his church sponsored a local softball team in Paragould.

“Going through that you see that there is a lot of equipment that needs to be bought. We had a girl who all of the organs in her body were on the opposite side so she had to have a special chest plate, and we all pitched in together and got it for her but we noticed there is a big need for face masks, bats, for cleats, for everything,” Watts said. “And Andy comes along and he’s doing T-ball with his son and he saw it in T-ball, too, where there is a need and we thought, why don’t we start something where we collect all this gear?”

Watts, who recently became a father, and Runyan, who is the father of a 4-year-old and a 17-month old, said their positive experiences in sports spurred them to give back.

They are seeking any old sports equipment from baseball, softball, soccer, basketball and football that is still usable. They have already begun working with Rodney Jumper at All Star Sporting Goods in Paragould, and they will be reaching out to other local sporting good businesses in the coming days.

While they hope that donated equipment will help greatly, if they do have to order anything, they will do it from a local store, and keep the business in the area.

Runyan said if they have success, they hope to pass on their idea to other churches and to other cities around the state.

“We’re trying to build a template to where if we do have the success that we hope that we have, that it’s a format that we can take elsewhere to other churches or cities because, let’s be honest, Northeast Arkansas isn’t the only place on the earth that has youth sports and has issues with equipment costs and the mismatch with poverty in the area,” he said.

Although the Locker 10:34 idea is just beginning, Runyan said he already has a dream in mind.

“One of my long-term goals is to find that kid who has nothing and is not going to be able to play and for us to find that kid and to be able to just say here it is, and just go play. I think that’s probably the moon for us. That’s something we know financially will be further down the road.”

To find out how to donate or to contact Locker 10:34 about equipment, please visit their website at Locker1034.weebly.com

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Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, http://www.jonesborosun.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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