By Ryan Kaczmarski
For nearly four decades, Phil Bova has been at the forefront of developing local young baseball talent. The Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame inductee (2003) has instructed more than 7,000 campers over the last 39 years.
“We get kids from all over northeastern Ohio,” Bova said. “What we are trying to do is help support the (baseball) coaches in the area, not only at the high school level, but all the community coaches, the little league coaches and travel team coaches. Sometimes those guys are limited as to what they can teach, because of time (constraints).
“We take the puzzle and tip it over and take different phases of the game, break them down and put it all back together with the actual game itself,” he added. “It takes a long time, because baseball has got to be one of the toughest games around (to master). If the kids are not fundamentally sound, you can forget about it.”
According to Bova, baseball is also a game of patience, and his instructors also teach the skills needed outside the white lines.
“We also teach sportsmanship,” he said. “The purpose of this camp is for great social interaction and to teach discipline. That is why we’ve been doing this for so many years.”
The camp was held last week at the Westlake Recreation Center, and nearly 200 kids participated. They were instructed in all aspects of the game, including throwing, catching, running, sliding, pitching and fielding properly.
“If you don’t practice perfectly, the practice is not worth the time you are putting in,” Bova said. “You have to practice perfect to prepare for the game. That’s the purpose of this type of school, that you prepare fundamentally for the game.”
The camp lets each participant choose what position they want the most instruction in, but it stresses versatility in all players.
“Not only can you play catcher, but you should be able to play shortstop, or first base, because today it’s like a sixth-man in basketball, you need to be able to play a number of positions.”
Bova starred in three sports at Cleveland West High School. In baseball, he earned All-Ohio and All-Scholastic honors. Recently, he retired as a major college basketball official. He officiated 30 years in the Big Ten Conference and was president of the Big Ten Officials Association. He also had the honor of being selected to officiate 20 consecutive NCAA March Madness tournaments.
Bova played professional baseball with the Cleveland Indians organization and coached baseball at Cleveland State University. Currently, he is coordinator of vocational education at Buckeye High School, located in Medina. Bova and his students organized a record-setting Coats for Kids campaign that benefited over 4,000 underprivileged children in northeastern Ohio. He is presently coaching youth basketball and baseball, while developing his five grandsons’ – and their teammates’ – skills in both sports.