It was 90 degrees out on a softball field in Long Island, New York. Hundreds of softball players stood in their diamond formations or waiting behind the cage- hungry, thirsty, but ready to play.
While the majority of players were fasting for Ramadan, they withstood the thirst, hunger and sweltering heat for a good cause: to raise funds for flood victims in Pakistan.
The South Asian Softball League, a Long Island softball league formed about six years ago, organized the tournament to raise money and spread awareness about the floods that swept through Pakistan in early August.
The league leases the field with a permit from the county that was effective up till Sunday, August 29. In order for all the money to go directly to flood victims, they had to play before the permit expired.
“It was during Ramadan, but if we waited … we would have had to spend a few hundred to get a one day special tournament permit,” said Siddique Farooqi, an organizer of the event. “It would not have been worth it because the donations would have gone towards offsetting those costs.”
The league requires permits for the field, as well as medical release forms and insurance that costs thousands of dollars to play.
Farooqi, who is a captain of one team in the league, said the idea came about when he and a friend were talking about the many recent calamities in Pakistan, including the floods.
“We said, there’s got to be something we can do. A South Asian based softball league – how many of those can there be in the country?,” said Farooqi, who plays an active role in the league in the administration and website.
Though there is one other league in New Jersey, it is just a quarter of the size, he said.
The South Asian Softball League has not only gained a lot of members in the last six years, but a lot of notoriety as well, he said.
“A Desi softball league – the idea kind of perplexes (people),” he said. “They automatically assume it’s a Desi picnic league. But it is super competitive; the guys take it very seriously.”
Farooqi said people have come up to him at social gatherings where he did not know anyone to talk about his team and a game he was in the week before.
The league has fifteen teams with about fifteen players each - about the number of people who came out to play for the tournament.
Awareness of the league has spread throughout (the area), Farooqi said. We're approached by random strangers who want to talk about our team and league.
The funds raised from the tournament totaled about $17 thousand.
The funds will be matched by Johnson and Johnson to total just under $35 thousand.
The money will be donated to Islamic Relief worldwide.
With one of the regional directors of Islamic Relief in the league, the planners were able to consult with him to ensure the money would go to the right channels.
“They have an excellent track record, delivering funds to the areas they work with but also managing resources,” Farooqi said.
Because of the hot weather and the fact that people were fasting, Farooqi said they thought planning the event would be an uphill battle.
“A hot summer day, for a league predominantly Muslim was a bit of a challenge - to get people to come out such that there would be a physical and tangible event,” he said.
Farooqi said they convinced people to suck it up and play.
“When you have a fundraising event, the more people that are present that understand why they’re there, there’s going to be more of a collective feeling and that definitely helps to be more generous - people bring out checkbooks on the spot.”
The players made it through with no health issues.
“I thought, in Ramadan, teams may be hesitant to really want to do anything, let alone play 90 degree heat softball,” he said. “But we had so many people within the league and outside the league willing to participate, and people asking us what we needed to make this as successful event as possible.”
While the initial goal was a conservative estimate of $3,000, the total amount generated from both player fees and sponsor donations after an initial cost of $10 per head far exceeded their expectations.
“There’s a very sizable Desi community in Long Island, so people saw what we were doing,” Farooqi said. “It was something they could rally behind, so we got a lot of help from various Pakistani organizations within the community.”
While the league is predominantly Muslim, some teams were made up of all Hindu players as well. The league has 15 teams, with 15 players on each, ranging in age from 22 to 34 years old.
The league begin with four teams who used to get together to play on a school playground.
“Now, we’re playing on some of the nicest leagues on Long Island – we have official team uniforms, and there’s year round conversation amongst our community (about the league),” Farooqi said.
Only members of the league who played in the 2010 spring league were permitted to play in the county-leased field due to insurance agreements to protect the league and county from liability.
This was the league’s first charity event, but Farooqi said that throughout the planning process and after seeing its success, the event will be on a yearly basis, and not just in times of tragedy.
The league hopes to help not just fellow Muslims but to raise funds for local causes like breast cancer, or for a local Long Island shelter, he said.
“Going forward, this is going to be a yearly thing, to do more charitable ventures, and try and make more of a presence in the community - something where we’re giving back to the community,” he said. Farooqi said there is positive public relations work involved in a league that is predominantly South Asian and Muslim.
“People start to take notice that Muslims are actually doing things that are not necessarily Muslim and giving back to their community,” he said. “The league is five or six years old and lot of it has been a learning process, a revolutionary process, but … we came together as a community, we worked hard and produced results.”
The driving force behind the tournament was the support received from both within the league and outside, Farooqui said.
“We kind of established the fact that we have the ability to help our own people, we have a platform,” he said. “We play in a softball league and we’re passionate about the league, so why not do something in which we can leverage our resources?”
Farooqi said they hope to see not only more efforts by their own league, but to inspire others who saw what they did.
“I think that was the most satisfying part – what a casual observer could take away,” he said. “Everyone has the capability to help someone else.”