SAPAKOFF COLUMN: Louie's Kids aims to fight childhood obesity with Slim Down the South Celebrity Softball Challenge


Contrary to the Slim Down the South Celebrity Softball Challenge title, Louis Yuhasz is playing hardball. His Louie’s Kids concept is more than a non-profit organization aimed at childhood obesity; it’s a full-time fight against fatty foods and fads.

Targets include the Southern diet of comfort chow that is routine in many households.

Pass the fried everything, please.

“The South is the sweet tea capital of the world, and it’s one of the very things that is killing a lot of these kids,” said Yuhasz, a 48-year-old Sullivan’s Island resident who founded Louie’s Kids in his home state of Virginia in 2001.

“It’s not just the really bad food; it’s that it’s so hard to talk about because it’s such a part of our culture.”

Fitness helps and, depending on the celebrity, some might be on display Saturday night at Riley Park for the second annual Louie’s Kids celebrity softball bash. The fun starts at 7:05 p.m. with tickets priced from $7-$16 ( or 724-9267).

Bill Murray and Darius Rucker took part last year, but Saturday’s rosters have more depth.

Scheduled headliners include:

Frank Martin, South Carolina’s new basketball coach.

Julie Roberts, country music star.

Xavier McDaniel, longtime NBA forward and one time NCAA leader in both scoring and rebounding at Wichita State.

Chelsea Meissner, “Survivor One World” finalist.

Harold Green, former Pro Bowl running back from South Carolina and Stratford High School.

Anthony Johnson, former NBA, College of Charleston and Stall High School guard.

Jim Stuckey, former San Francisco 49ers and Clemson defensive tackle.

Yukasz says 25 million kids are obese. Whatever “obese” really means, there is no doubt plenty of children are out of shape and with eating habits forecasting major health issues.

“It’s like drugs,” said Yukasz, originally inspired to take action upon the preventable death of his 550-pound father. “So many kids are addicted to food. They use food as a coping mechanism.”

The Louie’s Kids staff includes dieticians and therapists with volunteers, including “Run Buddies” for children lacking exercise. Rewarding impact has come at Charleston schools.

“We have seen weight loss transfer into better academic performance,” Yukasz said. “But the real heroes are the principals who ask me into their schools. They recognized that half of their kids are overweight. Those are the kids I need to help; those are Louie’s Kids.”

Also participating in the Slim Down softball fest:

“Bachelorette” star Roberto Martinez.

TV chefs Carla Hall, Amanda Freitag and Marvin Woods.

Langston Moore, former NFL, South Carolina and James Island High School defensive lineman.

“Bachelor Pad” stars Tenley Molzahn and Kiptyn Locke.

Steven Jackson, former Major League, Clemson and Summerville High School pitcher.

Drew Meyer, former South Carolina and Bishop England High School shortstop who is a graduate assistant on the Gamecocks’ baseball staff.

“For me, it’s a ‘Field of Dreams,’ which is one of my favorite movies and my mantra since I started Louie’s Kids,” Yukasz said. “Sure enough, we built it and kids have come, one after another after another.”

More softball celebs:

Terry Serpico and Bubba Bryant, “Army Wives” actors.

Ted Valentine, veteran college basketball official.

Chuck Driesell, Citadel head basketball coach.

Al Skinner, former Boston College head basketball coach.

Wait ‘til next year. Yukasz already is looking forward to a bigger celebrity softball game (or games) for 2013 with other cities involved. Atlanta, Charlotte and Nashville are on the radar.

The 2011 softball game led to a $10,000 grant from the Carolina Panthers, which funded outreach to Charlotte.

Skype is the latest approach.

“We’re helping kids from Utah and California, and the help has been life-changing,” Yukasz said. “The softball game will help us to enhance that and reach more kids, hundreds if not thousands more.”

Reach Gene Sapakoff at (843) 937-5593 or on Twitter @sapakoff