KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When inspiration struck Phillip Scimeca to raise money for others in need, the venue seemed obvious for a fundraiser.
“Playing Wiffle Ball with the neighbors is just fun,” the now-Platte County senior said.
Scimeca came up with the idea at the age of 11 in 2011, trying to find a way to donate funds to victims of the devastating Joplin tornado that spring.
So Scimeca and his family and friends turned three conjoined neighborhood backyards into a Wiffle Ball field. Entry fees were collected, and an inspirational effort resulted in more than $5,000 raised over Labor Day weekend that year.
The Phillip Scimeca Wiffle Ball Classic grew in stature and grandeur in the coming years. On Sunday, Sept. 4, hundreds converged on Scimeca’s otherwise quiet neighborhood of NW Skyview Avenue for the sixth annual event, expected to raise more than $30,000 for charity for a second straight year.
The support doesn’t surprise Scimeca despite humble beginnings of a truly unique venture.
“We’re very proud of him for even choosing to do that,” said Frank Scimeca, Phillip’s father. “Not many 11-year-olds think to give back like that. We just couldn’t be more proud.”
Born with a chromosomal abnormality, Phillip Scimeca always loved baseball and still does. He’s an avid Kansas City Royals fan who celebrated the return of outfielder Alex Gordon this past offseason.
Playing Wiffle Ball with kids in the neighborhood became a tradition.
So when Phillip Scimeca decided to try and raise money for charity with a tournament, family, friends and neighbors pitched in to make his dream a reality. Most of the youth teams the first year consisted of friends, who clearly helped nurture Scimeca’s development and provided him with a great support system growing up.
“Phil’s been our best friend since kindergarten, ever since he first started going to school with us,” said neighbor Dillon Doll, a senior at Platte County and a member of Phillip Scimeca’s team Sunday. “Whenever we first started, I think we raised $5,000, and we thought that was crazy. Last year it was $30,000, and that’s just nuts. It’s just really special.”
Each year the tournament continued to add new features.
Setting up now takes a couple of days, but the planning starts as soon as the previous year’s event ends. The increase in money raised stems from acquiring sponsorships and donations from companies along with a silent auction with donated items, which this year included Kansas City Royals memorabilia from last year’s World Series run.
The entry fees no longer make up the majority of collections.
A company comes in and puts up temporary fencing, and outside the center field wall sits a functional, sponsored scoreboard — complete with a team of high school girls to hang numbers after runs are scored. Doug Doll served as announcer and emcee this year, narrating the events from the back porch of the easternmost home of the three involved.
This year’s setup also included a recognizable generic Royals statue — the same one stolen and later recovered near the site of a Hy-Vee grocery stores’ billboard in Kansas City, Mo. No reason to ask how that ended up part of the field, but there were connections.
“Everything falls into place, it seems like, in the last few hours,” Frank Scimeca said.
This year’s participants included athletic standouts at Platte County High School — Doll, Justin Mitchell, Drew Parmeley, Austin Gammill, TJ Guillory and more. Tyler Watson and Liam Henry from Park Hill were also there, along with Park Hill South’s Andrew Aswegan and Jake Kline.
Mitchell and Henry, another member of Scimeca’s team, have both committed to play Division I baseball. Last year, Robert Moore — son of Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore — played in the event with his team winning the older youth division.
There were 40 teams Sunday this year in two youth divisions, up from 24 in the first event. Teams have slowly been added but still must be limited to accommodate the schedule, which lasts just one day.
Play started at 10 a.m. Sunday with 2-inning games (maximum four runs in any half inning) running well into the night. Oh yeah, the families brought in power and temporary lighting for when darkness intervened at “KCI Auto Auction Stadium,” which keeps an almost permanent outline that can be seen in the Google Earth view of the neighborhood.
Each four-player team gets a two-game guarantee, and action moves fast.
“We just had more people come out than I ever expected,” Doll said.
Scimeca’s team lost the opener after Jon Schiesl — a St. Pius X student — homered on the first pitch of the tournament, which came moments after Scimeca threw a ceremonial first pitch for a strike. The loss didn’t damper the spirit of the event, which carried on in front of the packed crowd.
Later in the morning, Scimeca came out and pitched against younger sister Ella Scimeca, who played on the only girls team in the field.
The goal remains to have fun while enjoying a day meant to help others. Last year, the money helped Variety KC build an all-inclusive playground at Tiffany Hills Sports Complex, which opened over the summer. Variety KC will again be the recipient of the money raised Sunday, although the use will be determined.
That’s up to Phillip.
“He’s so excited every year,” Frank Scimeca said, “just to see it grow through the years. It’s unbelievable the amount of appreciation people have shown toward it. It makes him feel really good.”
This year’s event marked the final chance for Phillip Scimeca to compete in the Wiffle Ball tournament he created.
The Phillip Scimeca Wiffle Ball Classic has grown to include an adult tournament played the Saturday night before the main event. With the namesake of the event set to graduate from high school, the future looks a little uncertain, although the almost unanimous support from the neighborhood and community could portend a continuation beyond this year.
Or this could be the final year people come together to live out the once-modest dream of a caring boy. Regardless, the legacy left by those who helped create the Phillip Scimeca Wiffle Ball Classic down to all those who have participated or attended in previous years remains unquestioned.
“This year, we talked about it being the last,” Frank Scimeca said. “Whether it is or not, we’ll meet after today and see where it goes.”