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06/08/08 2:40 PM ET

Nats celebrate 'championship fathers'

Team honors, emphasizes role of men in children's lives

WASHINGTON -- Carey Casey wants to build a championship team, and he doesn't need to make any trades to do it.

The CEO of the National Center for Fathering was the keynote speaker Sunday at the Nationals' third annual Father of the Year Essay Contest, held a week early because the Nationals will be out of town on Father's Day. Casey said at the event that he wants to build a team of "championship fathers" who are more active and engaged in their children's lives.

"I'm trying to sound the clarion call that fathers need to be involved in their children's lives and to inspire them," Casey said. "It's fun being a father, it's exciting and it's also an awesome responsibility."

Essay winners from each grade 1-12 and their fathers or father figures gathered along with leaders of the community, Nationals staff and representatives from the National Center for Fathering in the left-field party suites at Nationals Park before Sunday's game against the Giants. In turn, each winner came up as various speakers -- including Judge Dian Harris Epps of the Washington, D.C., Superior Court and city councilman Harry Thomas -- read excerpts from their essays.

After all the essays were read, the five finalists were brought to the front of the suite, which was packed with 50-75 people, and the 2008 Washington Nationals Father of the Year received his call.

This year's winner was Shane Salter, whose adopted son Moye wrote into the contest. Salter himself lived in foster care as a child before being adopted. Now a successful businessman and a father to three daughters, Salter and his wife made the decision to adopt Moye and three other boys to give them the same permanent, loving home Salter himself enjoyed after adoption.

Casey said that he thinks more celebrations like the ceremony held Sunday should be highlighted, rather than simply focusing on the negative connotations that seem to follow fathers around.

"A lot of times, we don't celebrate," Casey said. "This is a way that we can celebrate that is really highlighted, that daddies that may feel that they're not the best -- they may be a divorced dad, they may be a stepdad -- but we want to let them know that their role is greatly important."

The essay contest was a facet of the "Championship Fathering" campaign Casey and the center are spearheading around the country. Casey, a former chaplain for the Dallas Cowboys and the 1988 U.S. Olympic team in Seoul, said the program hopes to reach 12,700 fathers in the D.C. area and 6.5 million fathers nationwide -- about 10 percent of all fathers in the city and the country.

The contest is one of the many ways the Nationals continue to give back to the D.C. community, something the organization has emphasized since returning baseball to Washington four years ago. Barbra Silva, the Nationals' director of community relations, said the essay contest is just one of many programs the club participates in to help the D.C. community.

"Community outreach is of the utmost importance to us, as well as education," Silva said. "It's incredible that a team is that focused on participating in community activities and community outreach."

Silva said contest participation has grown every year since the Nationals began sponsoring the program three years ago, which Casey called "greatly encouraging." However, Silva said the action of having a program like this isn't what makes it important, but instead it is the message that these kinds of programs send that is "a priority."

After the program ended, Casey praised the Nationals for their partnership with the center, as well as their participation in Sunday's events. He emphasized that fathers playing a role in the lives and development of their children is of the utmost importance, even in the smallest ways.

"You don't have to be perfect," Casey said. "There are no perfect dads. I'm not a perfect dad, my dad was not a perfect dad, but we're there for our children."

Zachary Osterman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.