Growth of Little League Urban Initiative Jamborees Benefits Volunteers and Players
When the Little League Urban Initiative was established in 1999, one of the main goals was to bring the benefits of Little League Baseball and Softball to boys and girls in urban neighborhoods.
The jamboree concept was started in 2004 to provide even more opportunities for children in the program, including participation in a tournament-style event. For the first six years, a jamboree was held each year over the Memorial Day weekend at the Little League International Complex in South Williamsport, Pa., the site of the Little League Baseball World Series.
The players and coaches enjoyed the same amenities the teams in the World Series enjoy, including playing games in Lamade Stadium, the venue for World Series games since 1959.
In those six years, 66 teams and approximately 800 players participated in the jamborees.
In 2010, it was decided a move to state/regional jamborees would give even more Urban Initiative leagues the chance to play in a tournament-like atmosphere while also expanding the fellowship opportunities for the volunteers.
Over the last three years the state/regional concept for the jamborees has grown and prospered while achieving many of its goals.
By increasing the number of jamborees, the program has been able to reach out to some areas that had not had the opportunity to participate in previous years, while also increasing participation. In the last three years, 220 teams and nearly 3,000 players have had the opportunity to play in a jamboree.
"As each year passes, the aspect of the jamborees that continues to amaze me is the volunteerism of the people who put the events together," Demiko Ervin, Director of the Little League Urban Initiative, said. "The local leagues who host the events do a great job making the visiting leagues feel welcome while also doing everything in their power to make their event memorable for every participant."
The benefits of the jamborees for the players, coaches and league officials are many.
Ucal Palmer is the President of the Milford Little League, located in Marietta, Ga., which served as the host for the Georgia Jamboree. The jamboree featured 12 teams, including one from South Carolina and one from Tennessee. He believes the camaraderie that develops among the players and the chance to share ideas among the volunteers are at the top of his benefit list.
"With teams from other states, the Georgia Jamboree allowed players to meet others from outside their area or region," Mr. Palmer said. "As each day passes, you can see new friendships being made between players on different teams.
"For the coaches, parents and league officials who attend, the jamboree provides an opportunity to compare notes," Mr. Palmer said. "Many different things have come about after conversations between volunteers at the jamboree, including possible play between leagues in the future and the exchange of ideas on how to handle different league situations."
Mr. Palmer said the Georgia Jamboree had approximately 50 volunteers in addition to 25-30 umpires who also volunteered their time. Four umpires worked each jamboree game.
Bill Haley, the 2010 recipient of the Howard and Gail Paster Urban Initiative Volunteer of the Year award, echoes many of the thoughts expressed by Mr. Palmer. Mr. Haley works with the Jackie Robinson West Little League in Chicago, one of the leagues that hosted the Illinois Jamboree along with Horner Park Northwest Little League.
"The children who have been involved in the Urban Initiative jamboree in Chicago the last three years have enjoyed the opportunity to participate in a tournament-like atmosphere with their regular-season teammates and coaches," Mr. Haley said. "We also are proud to be able to feature a Challenger exhibition game the last two years. It provides a platform that gives the program some exposure as we try to expand the program. The Challenger game draws the biggest crowds of any of the jamboree games."
Mr. Haley said the Illinois Jamboree featured 12 teams, including two from Indiana and one from Wisconsin. Chicago is another of the cities which has hosted a jamboree all three years. Houston is the third.
The jamborees are three-day events, usually starting on a Friday night and continuing through Sunday afternoon. Most of the events are for Major Division (9-12-year-olds) baseball teams. The first jamboree for Major Division softball teams was held in 2011 in Stockton, Calif. Stockton served as a site for another softball jamboree this year while events were added in Clearwater, Fla., and Portland, Ore. Portland also serves as the site of the Little League Softball World Series.
Playing games was not the only thing jamboree participants enjoyed.
At some of the jamborees, the teams are invited to attend a Major League Baseball game on Saturday night. That has become one of the highlights for the participants.
"Thanks to the generosity of the Atlanta Braves, the chance to attend one of their games is at the top of the list of the most memorable things that happen at the jamboree," Mr. Palmer said. "When we hear from the leagues and the children after the jamboree, almost 100 percent of the time they mention the chance to attend a Major League game as one of the things they will remember most."
The other city to host an Urban Initiative Jamborees in 2012 was Los Angeles, which along with Harlem, N.Y., were the first two cities in the Little League Urban Initiative.
The Little League Urban Initiative is now operating with more than 220 leagues in nearly 90 cities in the United States. The Urban Initiative also has participated in more than 30 field renovation/development projects, including its most recent project in Richmond, Va. The Urban Initiative has stimulated the participation of 4,000 teams and approximately 52,000 players since its inception.
For more information on Little League's Urban Initiative, contact Mr. Ervin at: dervin@LittleLeague.org; or (570) 326-1921. More information on the Little League Urban Initiative is also available on the Little League web site or on Facebook, at: www.facebook.com/LittleLeagueUrbanInitiative.