Suggest to Ken Gerber that he’s someone special in Lancaster County youth sports, and he’s likely to start backpedaling.
He’ll tell you about lots of others who are giving their time and efforts. Or he might chuckle and say something like, “I think there are people out there who think I’m a screwball.”
But those who’ve known him and have worked with him for years would surely call him an MVP. Not exactly a Most Valuable Player, since those days are gone for Gerber. But maybe something like Motivated, Versatile and Productive.
“If we had folks volunteer like Ken volunteers, things would be different,” said Tom LaBarbera, travel coordinator for Hempfield’s U17 baseball program.
LaBarbera has worked with Gerber for nearly a decade, or long enough to appreciate Gerber’s efforts on behalf of local youth baseball. Efforts that, in fact, date back much farther than his relationship with Gerber.
“He’s listed as a secretary, but he does way more than what a secretary would do,” La-Barbera said. “If there’s ever an issue, people call Ken. … Ken shows up at games to make sure things are going smoothly. If there’s ever rescheduling, Ken does that. … He’s the glue that holds the league together.”
Gerber, a Lancaster Catholic grad and Armstrong retiree, is 68. He began coaching in the early 1980s, as his sons got into sports, and coached baseball, football and basketball. By 1989, he was part of the Lanco Midget League, which he and other key volunteers transformed into the Lancaster County Midget Baseball League 11 years later.
They unified several local leagues in the process, and today they’re part of an 18-team circuit that’s supported by many of the county’s scholastic baseball coaches.
“All we’re trying to do is keep what’s been around at the highest level, which is midget baseball,” Gerber said. “The majority of it is good baseball, and that’s our goal. To have a good experience for the kids, a good experience for the program and for everybody.”
Gerber’s not just saying the right words. His interest in kids has been well-known for years, as Tom McDonald confirms.
“You have a lot of coaches who just want to rant and rave,” said McDonald, who worked with Gerber for 19 years as an umpire assigner. “But Ken was one of those guys who would talk to his players, explain things to them, and he did it in a way that was easy for them to understand.”
Penn Manor boys hoops coach Larry Bellew couldn’t have said it better, having benefited from Gerber’s help as a junior high coach at both Hempfield and in his current post.
“All I have to do,” Bellew said, “is call him and ask.”
Bellew also has insight into why Gerber calls himself “a different breed.” It has everything to do with why Gerber’s still out there, and why he struggles to accept the “pay to play” world that now competes with more school-oriented programs.
“In the end, the satisfaction for him is just the growth of the kids,” Bellew said. “There’s no monetary value to it. He doesn’t have a kid in the program that he hopes will play more because he’s involved in it.”
Gerber calls it his purpose, and he says he’s motivated by the coaches and the kids. They’re why he’ll travel to three or four games in a given night, staying in touch with coaches. They’re why he’ll help resolve issues with umpires or a dispute with parents. And yes, his reward is being able to stand back at a playoff game and know that he helped make it happen.
Because even today, there are some things that just can’t be valued in terms of dollars.
• Connect with Jeff Young, a former LNP sports editor, at email@example.com.