Tuesday, June 28, 2011

American Legion gives a local high school student a chance to live his dreams on and off the field.


Jimmy Kazunas, a sixteen year old rising senior at Good Counsel High School feels a tremendous debt of gratitude to the American Legion. A member of the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Post 295 Baseball Team, his top ranked Maryland State Junior Legion squad appears to be on its way to an invite to the National Amateur Baseball Federation High School Championship tournament in Tennessee in late July. However, Kazunas will not be joining them; he has a busy week including a meeting planned with President Obama scheduled for the week of the tournament. Kazunas meeting with the President is once again thanks to the American Legion. An International Baccalaureate honors student, it all started when Kazunas was selected to participate in the American Legion Maryland Boys State earlier this month. The week long resident program is sponsored throughout the country annually by the American Legion. Each Boys State is comprised of rising high school seniors selected from their respective states. As part of the process each Boys State elects a peer to represent them at the Boys Nation. Kazunas had the honor of being elected as the Maryland Senior Delegate to Boys Nation this July, hence the meeting with the President. Kazunas will be one of the ninety eight young men representing nearly twenty thousand American Legion Boys State delegates from around the country.

Kazunas credits his school guidance counselor for nominating and helping guide him to the American Legion Boys State Program. He credits baseball great Brooks Robinson for guiding him in his decision to play American Legion Baseball. Kazunas states “I had the opportunity to meet and spend an evening with Brooks Robinson while watching a minor league baseball game last year. We talked about his high school experience with baseball; his school did not have enough players to field a baseball team. I was shocked and I asked him how he learned to play. He said he played American Legion. He could not say enough good things about how the American Legion affected his life. He spoke of the lifelong friendships formed as well as the level of play. He told me his professional career began as a result of a scout seeing him at a Legion Game.”
Kazunas is in a somewhat similar situation. Although his school has a baseball team, Kazunas is also a track athlete. An all WCAC conference cross country runner, he was finally convinced by his track coaches and track teammates to run and train year round last year. He continues to run eight to ten miles each day throughout the summer, waking up at five am to beat the heat. His training and events have also expanded to include mid distance and hurdles. All last winter he traveled to meets throughout the country. In the spring, after returning from Nike Indoor Track Nationals, the high school baseball season was well underway without him. He continued with track and in the spring he helped Good Counsel win its first overall WCAC Track championship in over 25 years.

As the spring track season was winding down he remembered his talk with Brooks Robinson. He missed playing baseball, he looked to American Legion Baseball which was just starting up after the high school baseball season had ended. Kazunas stated “When I was at American Legion Baseball tryouts I was rusty, but fortunately I was able to make the team. I was a little worried because I had not played in a while. I went out to have fun and figured if I didn’t make the team I at least had a chance to play again because tryouts lasted a few weeks. I made the team and it has been a blast. If I still wanted to play baseball the other option would have been showcases. I don’t know if I would have continued playing, it just wouldn’t be the same. With Legion ball our team plays together all summer. We play against teams from all over the state. We all pull for each other as teammates, its not just hey look at me. Showcases don’t give you that team experience. I guess Mr. Robinson was right when he said “nothing beats Legion ball” The American Legion has made this the greatest summer I could have ever dreamed. I get to play baseball almost every day with my teammates and then I get to meet the President”.
The American Legion was chartered and incorporated by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization devoted to mutual helpfulness. It is the nation’s largest veteran’s service organization, committed to mentoring and sponsorship of youth programs in local communities, advocating patriotism and honor, promoting a strong national security, and continued devotion to fellow service members and veterans.

The American Legion Vietnam Veterans Memorial Post 295 has been serving the Gaithersburg/Germantown communities since 1983. Post 295 commitment to the community is evident through the 28 year sponsorship of the highly successful senior/junior American Legion baseball programs. In addition to baseball, Post 295 sponsors Cub Scout Pack 1760 and has served wounded warriors since 2003 with Operation Provide Comfort. More information may be found at http://www.post295.org/.

American Legion Boys State is among the most respected and selective educational programs of government instruction for U.S. high-school students. A participatory program in which students become part of the operation of local, county and state government, Boys State was founded in 1935. Only those who illustrate leadership, character, scholarship, loyalty and service in their schools and community are considered. Merit and ability are the basis for evaluation during the selection process. At the conclusion of each Boys State, two representatives (a senior and junior delegate) are elected by their peers to represent their state at Boys Nation in Washington, where the young leaders receive an education on the structure and function of federal government. A highlight of the Boys Nation experience is a private meeting with the President of the United States. A famous photograph taken in the summer of 1963 depicts a young William Jefferson Clinton, as a Boys Nation delegate, shaking hands and greeting President John F. Kennedy in the Rose garden. Taken just four months Kennedy’s death, it is said to be one of President Clinton’s most prized possessions. Since Boys Nation began, a number of its graduates have been elected to public office, including presidents, congressmen, state governors and state legislators. Members of this prestigious program are considered to be the future government, business, and military leaders of the United States.

American Legion Baseball is a national institution. The league still stands atop the traditional values upon which it was founded nearly 85 years ago. Since 1925, American Legion Baseball has taught hundreds of thousands of young Americans the importance of sportsmanship, good health and active citizenship. American Legion Baseball enjoys a reputation as one of the most successful and tradition-rich amateur athletic leagues. Nearly 75 percent of current college players are program graduates. More than half of current major-leaguers played Legion Baseball. So did almost every working MLB manager, along with several former commissioners. In all, more than 50 program graduates are in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Legion Baseball's alumni base includes some of the sport's most recognizable names. Yogi Berra played for Fred W. Stockholm Post 245 in St. Louis and was once quoted as saying it was the most fun he ever had. Ted Williams suited up for a post in San Diego. Frank Robinson led his Oakland, Calif., team to the only back-to-back national championships in program history.

Gaithersburg Post 295 standout pitcher Charlie Cononie was recently drafted in the 24th round by Tampa Bay. Current Yankees slugger Mark Texeira played in the league's 1997 World Series. Babe Ruth was too old to join when Legion Baseball started, but he spent the final years of his life promoting the program as its director of operations. Other prominent players include Brooks Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roy Campanella, Dusty Baker, Albert Pujols, Greg Maddux and Chipper Jones.

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