Donald Stapleton has never had a problem committing to something.
The former Ameritech technician, who spent 30 years at that job, will step down as president of the Oak Park Youth Baseball/Softball organization (OPYB/S) by the end of the year. Stapleton, who has been an Oak Park resident for 54 years, just finished his 10th year at the commissioner’s post. He’s been coaching T-ball in the league for 15 years.
“I really feel that it’s time,” said the long-time coach, who has skippered the south side Tigers for so many years. “Myself and a few other board members have taken the organization from one point to another and now it’s time for others to take it further along.”
Under Stapleton, the OPYB/S was able to gain 501(c) non-profit status, allowing the organization to be eligible to apply for grants and enabling companies to donate funds as a tax write-off. The T-ball division of the organization was afforded the luxury of sporting actual pro baseball logos and names for its uniforms, which was engineered by Stapleton.
T-ball has always been a soft spot in the coach’s heart. He first joined the board in 1996 when it looked as though members were considering doing away with T-ball for 8-year-olds. Stapleton took it upon himself to keep the age group and the division intact.
“I felt it was very important, and still do to this day, that in order to learn defense and the fundamentals of baseball, kids at that age should still be hitting off of a tee, as opposed to live pitching,” he said. “Live pitching for youngsters at that age doesn’t make for a whole lot of action or development. I feel it makes them better overall ballplayers in the future.”
Stapleton succeeded in his quest and the effort came to fruition about six years ago when two Oak Park teams played one another in a PONY World Series.
“Those two teams being the best in the state at the time, from Oak Park and playing one another in the World Series is probably one of my most proud moments,” said Stapleton.
He also forged a solid relationship with the Park District of Oak Park, and helped the league acquire a tractor specifically to drag and maintain the ballfields the teams play on.
“He’s been a phenomenal president,” said Sheila Martinotti, a current board member, who, after 12 years, is also stepping down. “Don has always been very involved in every aspect of the organization. Under his leadership, the organization doubled its number of teams.”
As the coach can attest, not everything went smoothly during his time as president.
“It’s very hard to run a large organization that is made up strictly of volunteers because you can’t really fire a volunteer,” he said with a laugh. “My advice for the next president is to be very understanding and look at each situation individually. Get your goals out there early and try to get people to follow through on things.
“The ultimate goal of the job is to make sure the kids are having fun.”