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Play Forever: Cast Members of ‘The Sandlot’ Launch Youth Sports Non-profit

Co-founded by Grant Gelt and Victor DiMattia, the 501(c)(3) non-profit’s mission is to help make sports more accessible for kids.

Scotty Smalls slowly turned his head, afraid of what might be staring and growling nearby. Sure enough, as he looked left, he was face to face with THE BEAST.

Surprisingly—at least to a group of 12-year-olds who had grown to fear the mammoth dog — Hercules began licking the face of his savior after Smalls and Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez freed him from under a collapsed fence. Hercules’ gratitude continued as the docile dog led the cautious clan to his cache of buried, chewed-up, and slobbered baseballs.

Wow! Now we can play forever.

All summer, the nine boys just wanted to play baseball. Unfortunately, anytime anyone hit a home run and the ball went over the fence, it became property of The Beast.

“Ham, you idiot. Now we can’t play no more.”

The boys could barely muster a combined 90 cents to buy a new one. A lost baseball and the desire to continue play also spurred Smalls to “borrow” an autographed Babe Ruth baseball from his father.

We all know what happened to that one.

Nearly 30 years since The Sandlot was released and grew into a cult classic, cast members are now viewing the coming-of-age sports comedy set in 1962, as well as their experiences on and off camera, in a different light.

“We’re here to really change the narrative around the film,” says Grant Gelt, who starred as Bertram Grover Weeks. “We’ve spent the last 30 years talking about the movie and the moments and what it meant at the time, but we want to spend the next 30 years talking about the future and how we can use the movie and the opportunities and platform we have to really implement things that will last for future generations.

“It’s been a really meaningful thing for us to relate to this film as adults differently. We were kids when we made it and we’ll forever be sort of immortalized as those 12-year-old versions of ourselves, but the 40-year-old versions of ourselves have some real work to do and see some real opportunity to influence some change.”

That’s why Gelt and Victor DiMattia, who played Timmy Timmons, are announcing the launch of their sports non-profit, Play Forever, at LA Comic Con this weekend.

A 501(c)(3) organization, Play Forever — which also features Shane Obedzinski, who played Tommy “Repeat” Timmons, on its board — has a mission to “make sports accessible to everyone, anywhere we can be the most impactful.”

“(In the film) somebody would hit a home run and we couldn’t play anymore,” DiMattia says. “That was sort of an inspiration for us because of what we’re doing with the organization. We were those kids where just something as simple as 90 cents for a baseball was the difference between us being able to play or not.”

The boys from “The Sandlot” look over the fence as another baseball is gobbled up by The Beast. (Photo courtesy of Play Forever)

Due to increasing costs, a lack of resources and opportunities, time commitments, and the hypercompetitive nature of many sports — all of which were magnified at the height of the coronavirus pandemic — participation in youth sports is declining. In 2018, 38% of kids ages 6-12 played an organized sport on a regular basis, down from 45% a decade earlier.

Glaring inequities also exist in opportunities and resources between boys’ and girls’ sports. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF), not only are girls dropping out of sports at two times the rate of boys by age 14, but girls have 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play high school sports than boys do.

Initiatives and funding from major corporations including Dick’s Sporting Goods, Under Armour, and WSF are working hard to change this narrative for athletes, and while Play Forever is joining the fight, Gelt and DiMattia are also aware that not everyone is going to end up a professional athlete, so they want to create opportunities for boys and girls interested in anything from sports photography to groundskeeping to be able to fulfill their dreams in and around sports.

Along with a few other cast members, Gelt and DiMattia recently raised $10,000 for sporting equipment for a local organization in Minneapolis. In 2023, Play Forever is planning events in Houston, Louisville, Nashville, Chicago, and Salt Lake City, as well as monthly activations and programs including microgrants and a content operation determined to make sure as many stories from these communities and organizations as possible have a chance to be told.

“The opportunities for female athletes aren’t there as much as they are for young boys,” DiMattia says. “It comes back to our mission statement: for all kids regardless of who you are, how you identify, or what you do to have that opportunity to be able to have a life in sports. There are so many great things you can get out of sport—things that last your entire life.”

Not only are adolescents who play sports eight times as likely to be active at age 24 compared to adolescents who don’t, according to Aspen Institute’s Project Play, but the physical and mental health benefits of sports extend beyond the playing field or court. According to research from Ernst & Young, 94% of women who held C-suite positions in 2018 are former athletes, with 52% having played at the college level.

Gelt, DiMattia, and the rest of the cast certainly know the benefits sports can have in one’s life not only from their respective roles in ’90s sports movies including The Sandlot, The Mighty Ducks, and The Big Green, but having played sports themselves growing up; Gelt “always wanted to be a Dodger,” while DiMattia played hockey through high school.

The friendships and bonds they made on and off screen are a testament to that today.

“It felt like summer camp; it didn’t feel like work,” Gelt says. “This was a really wonderful way to spend a summer when you were a kid. Making a film almost became secondary to us having the opportunity to run around and play and make these friendships. 

“Thinking about it now, I could say the best part about it is that 30 years later we’re still friends and we’re getting closer and we’re creating other things around the film.”

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