He may have celebrated his 51st birthday Saturday in Ocean City, but Jack Conley is a still a kid at heart.
He found the secret to staying young long ago -- coaching and working with kids -- and passed it on to his three sons, who have followed in their dad's footsteps as youth coaches.
In fact, the Conley family's commitment is cause for celebration in Brooklyn Park, where the older Mr. Conley, a founder of the Brooklyn Park Youth Athletic Association (BPYAA) 19 years ago, will begin his 33rd year helping community kids this fall.
"He's a special kind of person who would do anything to help you, especially kids," said Lew Holmes, president of the Anne Arundel Amateur Baseball Association.
"Jack has always insisted on his kids playing the best baseball they can in order to become better players. That means playing in the higher [most competitive] brackets," he added.
The fruits of such a competitive philosophy were evident this summer, with BPYAA boasting state champions in 7-8, 9-10 and 11-12 year old Pony baseball.
"Jack wants the kids to play as much baseball as they can," explained Dean Albany, who led the BPYAA 9-10 team in the Mustang World Series in Liverpool, Ohio, last weekend.
With Mr. Conley as a pillar of dedication and guidance, BPYAA has grown from approximately 250 youngsters in baseball and girls softball back in 1974 to a record 700 kids this summer.
Mr. Conley's enthusiasm to give youngsters a chance to play good, fundamentally sound baseball has never waned. And as the BPYAA commissioner of sports, he is still the same guy he was as a teen-age coach.
Conley attended St. Rose of Lima grade school in Brooklyn. After graduating from Mount St. Joseph High in Baltimore as a standout shortstop, he began coaching the now defunct St. Rose CYO 16-and-under baseball team while attend
ing Loyola College in 1960.
His St. Rose teams became the envy of Maryland CYO teams, winning several state titles.
George Kazmarek, of Brooklyn Park, arguably the greatest amateur hitter to ever play in the county, got his start with the St. Rose team. Mr. Kazmarek starred at St. Joe, the University of Maryland, with the Leone's Boys Club and played in the New York Mets' farm system.
It wasn't long after Mr. Kazmarek played for Mr. Conley 20-some years ago that the CYO team shut down. Mr. Conley, who resides in Linthicum with his wife, Marge, was raising three boys and was still interested in coaching.
While he was coaching 7-8 year olds in the Brooklyn Park Optimist Club program in 1973, Mr. Conley heard about plans to disband that program. Many of the parents who once had been active had seen their children outgrow the program and wanted to give it up.
"A few of us got together and decided we didn't want to see the program fall apart and called a meeting at St. Rose to discuss starting an organization," Mr. Conley recalled.
The original BPYAA charter members included Mr. Conley, Frank Kvech, Merle Johnson,
John Giza, Bill Sommers, Art Richardson and Bob Morton.
Mr. Conley has been an integral part of the youth group since its inception. He even got his sons -- Jack, 27, Kevin, 24, and Jeffrey, 23 -- involved as coaches.
Mr. Conley is quick to shun the credit for the program's dramatic growth and points to the many other volunteers.
"We can't say enough about the ladies who run our concession stand, which pays for our biggest expense during the summer, umpire fees," said Mr. Conley.
All the BPYAA umpires are paid from $5 a game for the 7-8 year-old teams to $15 per game for the 11-12 year-old teams.
"Jack has never looked to have extra money in the treasury as some organizations do, because he believes in spending it on the kids," Mr. Albany said. "The people at Brooklyn Park know how much he means to the community. Have you ever heard anybody say anything bad about Jack Conley?"
Not in 32 years.