The team of 9-year-olds will be known as the Cherokee C.A.T.S — an acronym for commitment, attitude, talents and skills. The amount that a family pays annually for a child to be a member of the team will depend on their gross income.
Thomas, a retired civil engineer, said he and Campbell wanted to give the children who have the skill, but not the funds, a chance to play against what he considers to be a higher level of competition.
“Travel ball is incredibly popular, and because of that, it’s also very expensive,” Thomas said. “In a way, it’s almost turning into a rich kid’s sport.”
Thomas said that the expense of the sport is an issue because children who do not play travel ball find it to be extremely difficult to be able to play baseball at the high school level.
“It’s not fair that a kid who has the talent and ability to play high school ball isn’t able to because of their situation at home,” Thomas said. “Fifteen years ago, that wasn’t the case, and it shouldn’t be now. We need a travel team that the community can afford to be apart of. That way, the kids have the ability to go on and play at a higher level.”
Campbell knows all too well how difficult it can be to find success in baseball without having the money to play on an official team.
He grew up in rural Kentucky, one of six children, and his parents were unable to afford to pay for him to play baseball. That meant Campbell had to wait until he entered high school before he could play on an actual team.
Campbell considers himself lucky that he was able to get a college scholarship from his performances in high school, but he insists that he would never have made it to college if he had played today.
“In today’s environment, playing on a high school team without having a serious background in travel ball is almost impossible to do,” said Campbell, who will focus on fund-raising for the team. “If you don’t start playing the game early as a child, you won’t be able to make it very far.”
Thomas estimated that the average yearly cost for a spot on a travel team is around $1,200.
For a household of six or more that brought in a gross income of less than $29,000 a year, the annual fee to be a member of C.A.T.S. would only be $10, which, Thomas estimates, is 120 times cheaper than what most parents are paying.
A family of four that brings in a gross of 62,000 would only have to pay $200, while a family of two that brings in over 75,000 a year, who would fall into the most expensive bracket — $500.
Thomas estimates that the majority of the families that would want to be a part of the team will fall around the $200 mark, which, according to him, is roughly the same amount that is usually paid for a spot on a recreational team.
Another benefit for parents whose child or children make the C.A.T.S. team is that they won’t have to contribute any money to leasing a field, as Thomas already owns one himself.
Thomas and his wife founded the Children’s Academy of Hickory Flat 15 years ago. The academy not only a ball field, but a swimming pool and a gym as well, all of which were designed by Thomas himself.
Though Thomas and Campbell are only holding tryouts for a 9-year-old team this year, the field is big enough to allow play for children up to the age of 12, which is why both men hope to continue to add a nine year old team every year until four teams exist, one for each year between ages 9 and 12.
Thomas said tryouts will be held as soon as they have 10 children who are willing to play on the team. Currently, Thomas says, they are four short.
Still, Thomas is confident that the team will be able to fill its roster and be ready to begin playing a full schedule beginning in late March.