West Point Little League teams 'adopt' Marines
Clayton Hefner and Adam Derco thought nothing of it when their parents said they had lined them up to move a refrigerator one Saturday afternoon.
After all, that's what happens when you're big, strong and 20 years old.
But then their parents steered their cars toward the West Point Little League baseball fields.
And that's where they learned they had been “adopted” by two Little League teams.
The two Hempfield Class of 2011 graduates grew up together and joined the Marine Corps. They are assigned to the same battalion, which will soon be deployed to Afghanistan.
On April 13, the pair were called in front of a group behind a backstop on a field and were surprised by Chris Hefner, Clayton's father.
He presented T-shirts to one T-ball team and one rookie team with “We support Adam Derco, USMC” and “We support Clayton Hefner, USMC” emblazoned on the backs.
Chris Hefner started the Patriot Program to boost sponsorships for the league's teams, honoring a service member instead of a business on the backs of players' T-shirts.
“It sort of evolved from me just doing it for my son,” he said.
The players, who range in age from 4 to 8 from Hempfield, Greensburg and Unity, will act as pen pals to the Marines while they're overseas. Their days will be brightened with team pictures, care packages and letters sent by the players.
“This way, the league wins, the military person wins, and the kids get an idea of community service,” Chris Hefner said.
The presentation and show of support took Hefner and Derco by surprise.
“I was shocked. I felt honored because I basically grew up here every summer,” Clayton Hefner said.
Both Marines received many well wishes from the players' parents and league organizers who turned up for the short presentation of the T-shirts.
“I think it's going to be great for their morale,” said Anthony Derco, Adam's father. “Being away from home in a foreign country is tough enough. Having that support from home is going to be a big help.”
His son played baseball from age 4 until 16 with Youngwood's recreation program. That program is starting inter-league play this year with West Point, where Clayton Hefner played for a dozen seasons.
Both men played baseball in their late teens for the American Legion.
“(Clayton) had the opportunity to play college baseball, but he wasn't ready to go to college,” Chris Hefner said.
Adam Derco decided on the Marine Corps after he realized he wanted to follow in his uncle's footsteps and become a trooper with state police, which gives preference to veterans, Chris Hefner said.
Both are lance corporals preparing for seven-month tours of duty with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment.
They have returned to Camp LeJeune in Jacksonville, N.C., preparing to head overseas.
League President Fred Aiello said the idea came a little close to the deadline to sponsor other T-shirts, but he hopes participation increases next year.
Leagues in Ligonier and Bullskin have expressed interest in similar sponsorship programs, Chris Hefner said.
After spending so much time on the Hempfield diamonds, Clayton Hefner said, he is glad he'll be thought of during games while he's thousands of miles away.
“It's nice to have the baseball community behind me,” he said. “I'll still have a part of me back here while I'm gone.”
Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.