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Swinging for the Fences

By Keith Smithson, OD August 29, 2016

Dr. Keith Smithson is the chair elect of the AOA Sports and Performance Vision Committee and provided an overview of the community outreach event he led, leveraging the support of VSP Global, after discussion with Andy Skitmore of Marchon Eyewear. Dr. Smithson, along with Dr. Robert Sparrenberger of the Virginia Optometric Association, volunteered their time and services to provide eyecare to underserved youth.

I recently volunteered at a Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy event, supported by VSP Global. My most memorable patient was a fifth-grade girl who never had an eye exam. She was uncorrected at 20/200 in each eye. After the exam, I witnessed her seeing clearly for the first time. Her reaction? An ear-to-ear smile. 

She was an excellent athlete, so we discussed the possibilities now open to her for a sports career. She smiled, took a second, and then said, "That would be great, but what I really want to do is be a lawyer."

The Washington Nationals Youth Academy summer program is a summer-long, life skills academy using the power of baseball as the draw to engage disadvantaged youth like my patient about the importance of staying in school, eating right and living positively. 

I am currently the director of visual performance for the Nationals. My responsibilities include setting up vision testing, correction and enhancement protocols that are administered and implemented by me at all levels of our professional organization. Our owners the Lerner Family, and our General Manager Mike Rizzo, have always been incredibly supportive in recognizing the importance of vision to our teams achieving their ultimate goals, and this event was no different. The class and leadership at the top of our organization set the tone for the teams and programs that have been built with the Washington Nationals.

We wanted to educate the public to the importance of comprehensive eye exams—not simple vision screenings—every year for all children. On top of the comprehensive eye evaluation message, we also hoped to bring attention to the importance of all children using ultraviolet protected lenses anytime they are outside and the importance of sport-safe frames for sport.

Our team ambassador to the Youth Academy is the Nationals’ incredible third baseman Anthony Rendon. He is as good of a person off the field as he is a player on the field. His hard work, heart and dedication was instrumental in bringing this event to realty, along with the amazing efforts from the Youth Academy staff, and the VSP Global Eyes of Hope, Nike, and Marchon teams. This truly was a team effort.

In the end, 100 kids were seen during the event, all of which received sport-safe, UV-protected eyewear from Nike, and over a third of those seen needed and received prescription eyewear.

It was an amazing experience. I was fortunate to have my wife and two young children help out at the event, which I know will be life-changing for them, as well. The event took over a year to completely come together and would not have been a success without the hard work and determination of so many. 

Photos are courtesy of Paul Kim of the Washington Nationals. For more photos from the event, visit the Washington Nationals' official blog

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