Third-year law students Mia Ulery and James Walsh (right) with their client Wendell Fields (middle), Commissioner of B-Buzz Baseball League in Cleveland.
For over 20 years, B-Buzz Baseball League taught team-building, hard work and dedication to hundreds of Cleveland boys, preparing them to be community leaders, businessmen, lawyers, doctors and athletes.
Then in the 1980s, the league fizzled out. The young players grew up and went to college. They lost touch with each other, and the tradition shattered.
Thirty years later, Wendell Fields decided to bring the boys of summer back for an alumni game, and 60 players showed up. With fond memories and lifelong passions for the sport, the former players decided to join forces and resurrect the league. Fields, who is now league commissioner, enlisted the help of Case Western Reserve University School of Law students and faculty at the Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic to establish a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization.
“We will never have that lapse again,” Fields said. “We wanted to set it up the right way.”
Working under the guidance of Professor Matt Rossman, who heads the law school’s Community Development Clinic, third-year law students Mia Ulery and James Walsh worked through the process. They learned that the state of Ohio had previously recognized the league as an unincorporated nonprofit association, and the students had to first determine how to change the association to a corporation. The distinction meant that B-Buzz Baseball could apply for federal 501(c)(3), tax-exempt status and legally seek tax deductible donations — a major factor in increasing the nonprofit’s sustainability.
“We had to do a lot of background research on what the statutes actually say,” said Ulery, who joined Wendell on Cleveland Channel 5’s news show “Kaleidoscope” to talk about the league.
In addition to preparing B-Buzz’s 501(c)(3) application, the students counseled Wendell and his team through their initial board meeting and adopting a code of regulations.
“These guys have been very informative,” Wendell said of the students. “They are working me through it, and keeping me in line.”
Although it was previously a boys-only league, B-Buzz now accepts both boys and girls. Wendell created three sets of plans for the league — one to tackle immediate needs, another for three years into the future and a third that detailed the league’s goals five years out.
The students also made sure the league followed the guidelines established by Little League Baseball, so future teams would be in compliance with the regulations of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA.
B-Buzz Baseball already has a long list of top achievers. The league boasts professional athletes among its old rosters, including former L.A. Dodger Craig Thompson and former NFL player Desmond Howard. Mayor Brad Sellers of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, is a B-Buzz alumnus, as well as business owners and CEOs, including Daryl Z. Laisure of Zin Technologies and Brian Greshman of Take5 Rhythm & Jazz.
“We are most proud of who we’ve become after baseball,” Wendell said.
The students are already looking ahead at their own futures, too. Ulery will be an associate at Frantz Ward LLP in Cleveland, and Walsh will be an attorney at Benesch’s Cleveland office.
The students said they never established a 501(c)(3) before and were grateful for the experience of representing a client, working with a team and learning from their professor.
“Matt is the greatest. He is an excellent teacher. And to dovetail on that, Wendell is an excellent client,” Walsh said. “I feel a lot more comfortable with the legal process. We know what we need to research and what to expect from state agencies.”
The Community Development Clinic is one of the law school’s six clinics, in which 3L students work full-time for a semester or part-time for two semesters as part of the school’s nationally recognized experiential education capstone program.
For more on B-Buzz Baseball, visit bbuzzbaseball.org