“Three-step slant on hut,” said former National Football League (NFL) player Duane Butler as he stood before a group of St. Maarten athletes. The eight-year-old boy looked at the big man with the football and said, “Huh?” Butler then demonstrated the pass route and the young boy smiled and nodded his head. Three attempts later, he caught a pass.
Butler touched down on The Friendly Island last week for a vacation with his family. He planned to rest, spend time on the beach with his two children (a two-year-old and a baby of four months) and hopefully do some fishing. But when a group of young baseball players asked him to throw a football to them, he could not resist.
Butler stopped by Little League Ballpark on the first day of his trip to deliver a suitcase of books. Butler, who played for the Minnesota Vikings, is part of the International Rotary Club which has him participating in a program called “Having a Ball Making a Difference.” The project kicked off back in March when members of the Rotary Vocation Training Team (VTT) from District 7090 in Canada visited St. Maarten and surrounding Islands. They donated balls as well as books to the local sports clubs. Each organization received a copy of Canadian author Miriam Laundry’s inspirational children’s books: I Can Make a Difference and I Can Believe in Myself. The Make a Difference book shows how even a young child has the ability to help others. The Believe book addresses self-esteem.
The VTT visited several schools and sports organizations in St. Maarten and Anguilla. Led by tennis player Lezlie Murch, the team comprised a martial arts expert, a basketball coach, a strength and conditioning coach specializing in volleyball and a musician who played the guitar and harmonica. Despite not having a baseball player among the group members, they visited Little League and there discovered the Player Development Program which incorporates sports with reading, similar to their program.
During their springtime trip, the VTT visited the Little League several times. The volleyball coach worked with the boys on stretching. The basketball coach modified his drills on ball control, and the martial artist worked with the boys on cardio, helping the team build stamina. The tennis player hit balls high in the air so the boys could practice catching pop flies, and the harmonica player had the boys laughing and singing. During each visit, all the coaches sat with the children and helped them with their reading and homework.
Since their return home, the VTT Rotarians have recruited travellers to deliver books and balls around the world. Butler was asked if during his St. Maarten vacation he would deliver some new books to Little League Player Development Program. In the suitcase from the VTT were dozens of science, school and general reading books for children from 7 to 13 years in age.
The “Having a Ball Making a Difference” program has transformed into “Gift to the World.” Already, books and balls have been donated to organizations in Mexico, Pure, Argentina and even down under to Australia.
When he delivered the books, he spent time with the boys talking about the importance of education and fitness to stay healthy; that’s when the boys asked if he could throw a football to them. He did not have a football with him but promised the boys to come back later in the week, throw them a few passes and help them with their training.
“I am all about cross training,” said Butler. “Most sports involve running. And sports with a ball require you to keep your eye on the ball.” Cross-training refers to an athlete training in a sport other than the one he or she specializes in with the goal of improving overall performance.
Later in the week, he made good on his promise and returned to work with the baseball players, teaching them some American football drills. At Butler’s call, the boys ran routes, tracked the ball and all eventually made catches. “I love being able to share the exercises and training that I learned being a professional athlete,” said Butler.
Butler played college football on a sports scholarship before joining the Vikings in the NFL. He also spent time in the European NFL and later in the Canadian Football League. He played pro-ball for nearly a decade and is now a fitness coach at Niagara Tennis Academy in Canada.
While on St. Maarten, he also caught a few fish.