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Tinley Business Owner Steps up to the Plate After Coach Scams Youth Baseball Team

If not for benevolent spirits like that of local business owner, James Garner, a Hobart, IN, traveling baseball team may not have a season this year. The team's coach scammed parents for nearly $8,000 before flying the coop.

Ten-year-old Matthew Benton says that when he steps into the batter's box, he knows God wants him to be a Major League Baseball player.

But two weeks ago, he wasn't even certain he'd be able to play on his youth traveling team. The baseball-obsessed Hobart, IN, player's world shattered when his coach scammed his team for thousands of dollars, possibly eliminating the season. Then on Sunday, the Deep River Devils played—and won—their first game. It would not be so if not for the generosity of others, like Jim Garner, owner of the  in .

"I heard about it, and I knew I had to do something," Garner, 32, of Frankfort, said. "You just feel bad for the kids. They were left with no direction. This guy was really running the show so they didn't have anyone to do things for them."

Jeffrey Halter, the team's 40-year-old former coach from South Elgin, turned himself into police last week, Hobart Police Lt. David Grissom said on May 3. He was charged with 10 counts of theft, he said. Parents have told Hobart Police investigators that the coach collected $675 from each of the players' parents, gathering $7,657 to pay for player uniforms. But he left town without paying the uniform company, they said.

Halter posted a $1,000 cash bond April 28 and was released.

The kids were devastated, said Randy Benton, who has two sons, including Matthew, on the team. He coached them last year and has stepped up with another parent to do so again.

But with no uniforms, no games and no money, he wasn't quite sure where to turn. Nonetheless, he promised to make it happen.

"I said (to Matthew), I guarantee you we will have a season," he said. "I told him, 'Don't you doubt it for a second. We're going to make this happen. I don't know how, but we will.'"

He told him that just like there are "bad" people in the world, there are good ones—like Garner. Baseball was always his favorite sport, he said, and he played it all through high school and college.

"I know what it's like to have that much love for a sport … that feeling of setting foot on the field," said Garner, who grew up in Orland Park. "The parents in this case got bamboozled. It happens. But I just want these kids to get to play."

"Overwhelming" was the first word that came to Benton's mind when asked about Garner's generosity, he said.

"You know how bad the economy is," Benton said. "We're a blue-collar town. A very small town. Generally, I think a lot of people help each other out. But to get someone from completely outside of your realm? I mean, Tinley Park? I guess it's only 45 minutes, but it just seems like a world away."

Garner said he read the story in an area newspaper and contacted the reporter who wrote it. He's since been inundated with offers from major sporting equipment companies wanting to donate materials or share costs. All told, the design and other costs associated with uniform production can run a team between $3,000 and $6,000, Garner said. 

Other local organizations, including the , are also looking for ways to help, such as including the Hobart kids in an upcoming tournament.

He'll be heading this week to Hobart to meet those he's helped and fit the Devils for their new uniforms.

"Youth sports are fulfilling. To see the kids walking around, feeling confident in their uniforms," he said. "It sounds like the kids are really exited about this. That's the most important thing."

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Patti Lavin April 30, 2012 at 12:00 PM
I'll be honest, as a parent here in Tinley, I've heard nothing but stories of SportsStation getting a bad rap. I'm very happy to hear of the owner stepping up to help these kids out... Let alone in a super quick manner! Great job Jim!!!
nancy April 30, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Well done Mr. Garner! Good things happen to good people!
Russ April 30, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Mr.Benton was right there are good people in the world. A good lesson for his son Matthew. Thanks to James Garner for restoring the dreams of a whole team of youngsters.You sir are a hero.Thanks for stepping up,
Randall Benton April 30, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Jim is more than a hero, he is a role model. We should all learn from his generosity and be willing to help our fellow humankind in any way we can the way he has. I can't thank you enough from the bottom of my heart for our kids.
Jennifer May 01, 2012 at 04:04 AM
Thank you for stepping up and helping out!!! The lesson these kids will learn from this will follow them their entire life and they too will learn how to pay it forward. Hobart is an amazing town, it is awesome the parents are standing up for their kids and pitching in to coach. :)
Janet May 02, 2012 at 12:51 AM
Did you know that: "Donovan Nichols, the USA Co-ordinator for Pay it Forward Day and Director of the PIF Foundation, believes that 3 million acts of kindness will be achieved in 2012. The Pay It Forward Day is celebrated on April 28." Congratulations Jim Garner for your act of kindness on "PAY IT FORWARD DAY" I'm proud to know you and do business with you!

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