Kemper Academy honors Cumberland’s baseball legacy
When fans attend a baseball game at Kemper Academy most of them just see a nice field, what Joel Cumberland sees is young lives touched, dreams achieved, and a lot of chickens.
In 1985 Cumberland approached the KA leadership about restarting the school’s baseball program. He was given the green light to form and coach the team, so he immediately began raising funds for uniforms and equipment. But there was another need, there wasn’t a field at the school to play on. By 1987 he and those who came along side of him had built the baseball field that still remains today. A lot of those funds came from selling chicken plates, as well as other fundraisers.
“I cooked so many chickens I probably should feel guilty,” Cumberland said.
On Friday night, with his family in attendance, the field was officially named Joel Cumberland Field in a pregame ceremony, with a sign placed on the concession stand.
“If he had known about it, his son and I would have probably had to tie him up and drag him there,” said Robert Luke, who played on Cumberland’s first team in 1985.
“He was not a screamer or a yeller,” said Luke, who still goes to the 84-year-old Cumberland for coaching advice to this day. “I’ve seen him get aggravated, but most of the time he was calm and simply told you what you did wrong and what you needed to do better. He was not a ‘tear a kid down” type of coach.”
Cumberland coached until the conclusion of the 1991 season. He came back for one season in 1998. “I would still love to be coaching, but I just don’t have the energy,” he said.
All the time he was coaching he was working for the U.S. Postal service out of the Preston Post Office.
“I would work until 3:30 then head to the field,” Cumberland said.
Both of his sons, Jason and Seth, played for Cumberland, but Luke said the coach was not one to play favorites.
“He wasn’t starting his son and some of us players went to him and told hm he should be playing,” Luke said. “He just didn’t want it to look like he was playing favorites. His son was better than a lot of us, including me.”
Cumberland has also been a fixture in youth league circles, including several years in the Philadelphia program.
His daughter, Lori Ellen, played softball at Kemper Academy, while Joel’s wife Iva Lou still teaches at the school.
Another attribute Luke respected about Cumberland is how he didn’t just do things for you, he did them with you.
“There were a lot of us players up there at the Legion Hut helping with those chickens at four or five on a Saturday morning,” Luke said, noting that Cumberland taught his players more than just baseball.
And yes, Cumberland still attends the baseball games. These days he makes his way to the field to watch his 13-year-old grandson Davis play, 37 years after the elder Cumberland coached his first game at KA.