Amazing Kids! Magazine

Amazing Kid! of the Month Interview – Max Bobholz

By Victoria Feng, Editor-in-Chief

 

Max Bobholz is the founder of Angels at Bat, an organization focused on giving kids in Africa baseball equipment.  After seeing members of the Ugandan team complete in the Little League World Series with limited equipment, Max was determined to help.  He realized many American kids like himself had a lot of used equipment they didn’t need anymore, and he started collecting them to donate.

Amazing Kids (AK): What inspired you to start Angels at Bat?

Max Bobholz (MB): Looking back on my time as a baseball player, it is clear to me that I thrived when a part of teams that were led by coaches who believed in me. One coach in particular, Coach Willi, truly supported me as a player and a person, leaving a major impact on the rest of my baseball career. Unfortunately, in 2012 when I was only twelve years old, Coach Willi committed suicide after silently struggling with depression.  His passing greatly affected me, and I tried to figure out how to honor him while at the same time learning how to process my emotions. In August of 2012, I was watching the Little League World Series and something special happened; during that year’s series, there was a team from Uganda competing, which happened to be the first African team to ever make it to Williamsport. I remember watching ESPN’s story on the Ugandan team, which highlighted the fact that the team had managed to earn their way into the series despite lacking the proper equipment back at home.  The players had no uniforms or shoes and shared eight gloves among multiple teams, lacking the equipment that I realized many Americans had in excess. In that moment, I identified their need for equipment and came up with the idea to collect the equipment that sat collecting dust in the garages of those I knew in order to send it to Africa, hoping to supply them with enough equipment to play the game. After formulating the basis of the charity, I knew that incorporating him into the name of the charity was the perfect opportunity to honor Coach Willi, hoping to spread his love for the game to those halfway across the world.

(AK): What was the most challenging part of starting your organization?

(MB): The concept of the charity is simple, all we have to do it collect baseball and give it to those in Africa so they can use it, but the process of initially getting the equipment from Point A to Point B proved to be a difficult task. As a twelve year old boy, I had absolutely no connection to Africa and no ideas on how I would start the long journey of sending baseball equipment across the globe.  For over a year, I established Angels at Bat as an organization that collects baseball equipment and sends it to Africa. I talked with various service groups, hoping to gain some insight into how to best send the equipment to Africa, and found what I was looking for in a local Rotary Club that just happened to be planning a service trip to Kenya. Kindly, they invited us to join them on their trip and allowed us to bring 19 suitcases of baseball equipment, bringing my dreams to reality. In the summer of 2014, my mother and I travelled with the Rotary Club to Kenya and taught baseball to nearly a thousand children, marking the first of many trips to Kenya that have developed Angels at Bat into what it is today.

(AK): Can you describe the experience of a kid who’s been affected by Angels at Bat?

(MB): Although Angels at Bat has impacted the lives of many people, one story in particular about how the charity has affected someone holds a special place in my heart. This is a story about a boy who found his passion during our first trip to Kenya in 2012.  On our first day in Kenya, we brought equipment and taught baseball at Nyumbani Children’s Home, an orphanage that houses children infected with or orphaned because of them having HIV/AIDS. Nyumbani is a wonderful and safe place for these children who are often forgotten and left out of society because of their illness and happened to be the first group of children to receive training and equipment from Angels at Bat.  Baseball is not a popular sport in Kenya, so for many of the children, this was their first interaction with the game and the looks of confusion along with amazement that filled their faces was priceless. One boy, named Ignatius, was especially fascinated by baseball and fell in love with the new game. Ignatius always wanted to do and learn more, as he asked me to teach him how to be a catcher, how to pitch, and how to hit properly.  He told us that he thought the young kids were lucky because they could grow up playing baseball, something he was not able to do; he was sad because he was about to leave for college and would not be able to play baseball often. Baseball quickly became his favorite sport despite living in a soccer, rugby and track-dominated country. Years later, when given the opportunity to visit the United States to speak for a group of people, Ignatius said that a major highlight of his visit was going to a Boston Red Sox game where he was able to see American baseball be played professionally.  Ignatius’ story embodies how the introduction of baseball to Africa has allowed for children to find their passion, and I hope that we can continue to share this type of experience.

(AK): What do you view as your greatest accomplishment?

(MB): Although Angels at Bat has given me many amazing experiences that I am extremely grateful for, there is one outcome of the charity that has truly impacted me the most.  Out of everything, I view my greatest accomplishment to be the fact that through our charity, we give other kids the opportunity to give to others and to be leaders. I’ve always believed that giving and serving others is one of the best things that a person can do, this mentality was a major factor in my decision to start this nonprofit.  Angels at Bat has allowed me to continually participate in helping and giving to others, however, what I did not expect was that it also allows other kids to do the same. Early in the charity’s history, we collected equipment in and around my hometown of Green Bay, Wisconsin. However, as word of the charity spread, the reach of Angels as Bat spread as well.  We developed branches across the country as other kids reached out to us, wanting to participate and help others. Now, after seven years of existence, Angels at Bat has nine branches in eight different states, with each branch being led by a teenager. Being able to give other teens like me the opportunity to help others fills me with so much gratitude because I know how impactful it can be on a person’s life to get involved in volunteering at a young age. I am thankful for each and every person that joins our team and works to help others, they truly inspire me to do more.

(AK): If you could change any single thing in the world, what would you change?

(MB): When people first think about Africa, images of large animals, desolate deserts, starving bush people and crippling poverty immediately come to mind.  To be truthful, that is what I thought Africa was like before I was able to experience it for myself. Upon arriving in Kenya during our first trip in 2012, these stereotypes were quickly disproven as I began to experience the continent and its people for what it truly was, a beautiful landscape filled with the most amazing people.  Although some aspects of these stereotypes were present, such as poverty in some areas and, of course, the beautiful wildlife, I was shocked to find aspects of Africa that I previously did not know of. Downtown Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, is a bustling metropolis with skyscrapers and fancy buildings, something I would’ve never expected to find. Despite the language and culture barrier, the Kenyan people proved to be some of the most genuine, kind, welcoming, truly happy, and giving people that I have ever met. My first trip to Kenya was life changing, as I was able to develop my own image of Africa and gain a real understanding of the African people, culture, and landscape. Forming this new understanding caused me to realize how distorted the average person’s image of Africa is; far too often Africa is viewed as beautiful only for its landscape and animals, as people forget that it possesses rich cultures and beautiful people. There are over two thousand languages on the African continent and over three thousand ethnic groups, making Africa to be one of the most culturally-rich places on Earth. If I could change anything in the world, I would change the view that people have of Africa and replace it with the admiration that I have gained for the amazing continent, people, and cultures. Africa is a diverse and blossoming continent filled with amazing people, and it is sad that not enough people understand that.

(AK): What advice would you give to our readers about following their dreams and making a difference?

(MB): Starting Angels at Bat took a lot of hard work, but throughout the seven years of the charity’s existence, I have learned that hard work can make nearly anything happen.  Angels at Bat began as just an idea to send equipment to those who needed it, and originally I never expected to ever step foot on the African continent. However, through perseverance and a little stubbornness, the charity was able to expand into what it is today.  In addition, I also learned the value of a simple conversation; we have met incredible people who, through conversations that developed into connections, have been able to help Angels at Bat immensely. I learned to value every conversation that I share with others, because a person truly can never know the impact that others could make in their life or the lives of others.  My favorite quote was spoken by Gandhi, he said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. This quote is so powerful because it explains that any person, regardless of age, can make a difference in this world, all they have to do is identify a need and pursue a solution. When I saw the Ugandan team without proper equipment, I asked, “How can I help them play the game they love easier?” My advice to those reading this article is to find what they are passionate about, identify a need in this world, work towards finding a solution to this issue, and, most importantly, never give up or lose hope. Anybody at any age can make a difference, so follow your dreams and through hard work, you truly can achieve anything.

(AK): What are your goals for the future?

(MB): I am a firm believer that having goals are extremely important. When looking at Angels at Bat, I have always said that my goal for the charity is to never stop because we can always do more.  To date, Angels at Bat has nine branches in eight states and it is our goal to continue to grow that number. Additionally, we are working towards being able to send baseball equipment to more countries in Africa, as we have many countries reaching out, asking for equipment, and we are searching for ways to get donated equipment to them.  Angels at Bat has grown fast in the past seven years, and our goals for the future are to continue to grow and help others. My personal goals outside of the charity include graduating from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, where I am currently pursuing two majors in Biology and African Cultural Studies, be accepted into Medical School, and pursue a future career in Pediatrics. On top of academics, I would love to be travel throughout Africa and continue to learn more languages and learn about more cultures.

(AK): Do you have anything else to add?

(MB): If anyone is interested in possibly joining Angels at Bat and leading a branch of the charity in their hometown, please feel free to check out our website, angelsatbat.org, and email us a copy of your completed branch application. We are constantly looking for new people that want to help others, so please, reach out!