Luke and Owen Van Lehman collect baseball uniforms, equipment for young teams in Africa

by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Thanks to generous people in Lake Oswego, Owen and Luke Van Lehman are sending huge boxes of baseball and softball uniforms to kids in Uganda.As far as sports-loving kids in Uganda are concerned, Luke and Owen Van Lehman are the Gold Dust Twins.

The 17-year-old Lake Oswego High School duo, who are real-life identical twins, came up with a project that will be hugely beneficial to young baseball and softball players: sending them boxes full of uniforms, along with sports shoes and cleats and other athletic equipment. Their program is off to a flying start.

“My dad heard from his friend with the Ugandan Baseball Association,” Luke Van Lehman said. “He said the first box had arrived.”

That’s good news, because there are plenty more uniforms where those came from. One thing the uniforms all have in common is that the word “Lakers” is on the front of each one, which brings up the possibility of every team in the league being named the Lakers. The Ugandan kids don’t mind at all, although Luke and Owen wondered about this at the beginning.

“The kids in Africa think it’s gold,” Luke said. “They told us, ‘The kids will love this!’"

The reason why the Van Lehman brothers started this project is simple: They love baseball and play on the baseball team at LO High, and they also love Africa. They inherited their double love from their father, Dan Van Lehman.

“Our dad has spent his whole career in Africa,” Owen said. “First he was with the Peace Corps, and he worked with the United Nations at a refugee camp. During the Rwandan genocide, he was there to help people. Dad knows the whole of East Africa.”

Dan Van Lehman has been involved in the most serious kind of work in Uganda, but he has also made time for fun and games, particularly those involving a baseball or softball. He discovered a surprisingly vital youth baseball program in Uganda. In fact, the nation had already sent a team to the Little League World Series. But there was still a lot of room for improvement.

“Dad took videos of the kids playing baseball,” Owen said. “They were all wearing day clothes. They didn’t have any uniforms. When Luke and I watched the videos, we got an idea. We’re in a pretty wealthy athletic program, and we thought they might give us some old uniforms.”

The Van Lehman brothers’ project met with immediate success.

“We asked Coach Anders (LOHS baseball coach Jake Anders) and he was very generous in giving us jerseys and pants,” Luke said.

“It was a lot!” Owen said.

The brothers thought there might be a problem with some uniforms being as much as six years old, but they were assured by sports officials in Uganda that the uniforms would be immediately cherished by Ugandan kids.

From then on, wherever Luke and Owen looked for help, they were met with generosity. LOHS softball coach Christina Cooke donated old softball uniforms to the boys, and the Lake Oswego Little League Association came through, too.

“They gave us trash bins full of pants,” Luke said. “They were really generous and really helpful. Adidas gave us 100 pairs of brand new cleats. We’ve had few difficulties with the whole program.”

“Our dad has fully supported us and pushed us to get it done on time,” Owen said. “He told us, ‘I don’t want to do it. I want you guys to do it.’ “

“Dad loves baseball, and he loves Africa,” Luke said. “Those are his two favorite things. He’s proud of us doing something that is bigger than ourselves.”

Sons and dad are confident that the uniforms will make a big difference. When a player puts on a uniform, he knows he is a baseball player.

“Once they get their jerseys, it’s not just a sandlot thing,” Luke said. “It’s not a backyard game or a street game. It’s a real game.”

Soon, seven more huge boxes of uniforms and other sports equipment will be sent to Uganda, and a lot more is planned for the future. “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Luke said. After that the Van Lehman brothers will have only one more thing to do.

“We want to go to Uganda and see them play in our uniforms,” Owen said. “That will have a lot of meaning for us.”

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