Following the recent theft of the life-size bronze Jackie Robinson statue, Bob Lutz, the founder of League 42, has underscored the significance of resilience in times of adversity. League 42, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering inner-city youth through baseball, deliberately adopted Robinson's name to symbolize strength and determination. Before the theft reached national news, the statue of the baseball legend had been a source of inspiration for countless youth athletes and community members at the historic McAdams Park in Wichita.

A photo of Jackie Robinson sliding into a base during a game is affixed to a wall at League 42

Reflecting on Robinson’s legacy, Lutz highlights the struggles Robinson faced as the first African American professional baseball player in Major League Baseball. Despite facing rejection and discrimination, Robinson persevered, becoming a symbol of unwavering determination..

The statue of Robinson was meticulously curated in collaboration with Robinson's widow and the Jackie Robinson Foundation, ensuring it captured Robinson's charismatic smile, serving as a constant reminder of hope for all who encountered it.

A plate sits empty at McAdams Park where the bronze Jackie Robinson statue once stood

When Lutz realized the statue was missing on January 25, he initially felt frustrated and even contemplated if he could continue as League 42's executive director. He contacted police, and they began a criminal investigation.

“It was too painful–too much,” says Lutz. “I felt that if our community can’t support League 42, then I can’t do this.”

However, the outpouring of support from the Wichita community, along with generous contributions from individuals nationwide, reignited hope and determination. A GoFundMe fundraising campaign initiated by Lutz and League 42’s Administrative Assistant Jaclyn Evans quickly gained traction, raising more than $190,000 by February 5 before being closed.

Additionally, 30 Major League Baseball clubs committed to aiding in replacing the stolen statue, demonstrating the widespread impact of the sculpture. Remarks on the GoFundMe page uplifted Robinson’s legacy and the impact he’s had on generations of athletes, individuals and families.

A sign reading League 42 is painted on a wall inside the facility in Wichita

The statue isn’t just a symbol of inspiration for Wichitans. Its rarity – just one of only 10 Robinson statues in the country according to Lutz – makes League 42 and McAdams a noteworthy destination, drawing visitors from far and wide. Even in the absence of the full statue, Lutz says the park’s Jackie Robinson Pavilion continued to attract visitors, with at least two tour buses arriving and individuals offering prayers near the remnants.

As the League 42 community rallied together amidst adversity, Lutz reflected on the organization's commitment to providing urban children in Wichita with an affordable opportunity to participate in organized baseball. The organization serves over 600 little league athletes, supported by a network of 138 volunteer coaches.

Boys play baseball inside during practice at League 42

Beyond the cost of replacing the sculpture, funds raised will be allocated towards support for four education programs League 42 also operates. Its Bright Lights Education Enrichment Project, led by Director Chitra Harris and Assistant Director Nathan Anderson, is offered at no cost to youth.

Despite the challenges faced, Lutz remains resolute in his commitment to inspire and uplift the community, mimicking Robinson himself.

“When you think about how many times Jackie Robinson was knocked down in his life, rejected for being a Black professional baseball player – one thing he did was not give up,” Lutz says reflecting on Robinson’s legacy.

While the replaced sculpture will not be in place in time for the start of this baseball season which begins in April, Lutz is hopeful it will be by the end of summer. He is working with the City of Wichita to find better ways to monitor and secure the statue.

The recovery efforts for the statue and overwhelming support, both local and national, serve as a testament to the enduring legacy of Jackie Robinson and the indomitable spirit of League 42’s Wichita community.

An arrest has been made, and at this time, the crime is not considered to be racially motivated.