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Three's a Charm: Third Annual Urban Initiative Jamboree Comes to a Satisfying Close
For six years, the Little League Urban Initiative – Little League’s endeavor to bring the benefits of the program to families in urban areas – has provided young people a chance to play baseball where there was once little opportunity. As part of its continued efforts to increase interest in baseball among urban youth, Major League Baseball, recognizing the merits of the Urban Initiative and the unique opportunity afforded by the Jamboree, has contributed $500,000 in support of the program.
Participating in the Jamboree were Little League programs from the following cities: Albuquerque, N.M. (Isleta Little League); York, Pa. (York City Little League); Louisville, Ky. (Portland Little League); Philadelphia (Lighthouse Little League); Chicago (Rosemoor Little League); Tampa, Fla. (Yellow Jackets Little League); Houston (East End Little League); Trenton, N.J. (West End Little League); San Diego (Encanto Little League); and Los Angeles (Playa Vista Little League). One local league umpire accompanied each team, and each were on the field for several Jamboree games.
“We had an awesome time and we tried our best,” Eddie Ward, of the Yellow Jackets Little League team from Tampa, Fla., said. “The fields looked different from when I’ve seen them on TV, and it felt different once we got on the field. We wanted to win all five games – I tried to hit a homer.”
“Our moms and dads were just as excited to be here as we were,” Kent Reeves, another Yellow Jackets Little Leaguer, said. “It was really fun to play on these fields. I think we’re just as good as any of those World Series teams … maybe we’ll be back in a few months (playing in the World Series).”
These children from 10 Urban Initiative Little Leagues arrived at the home of Little League Baseball and Softball earlier in the week. During the Jamboree’s opening ceremonies on Friday night at the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum, David James, director of the Little League Urban Initiative, and Stephen D. Keener, president and chief executive officer of Little League Baseball and Softball, welcomed nearly 200 players, their managers and coaches, along with other local league officials and family members who made the trip. Each of the players received medals commemorating their visit and participation in the Jamboree.
“This is something that happens once in a lifetime,” Jamie Avila, father of East End Little Leaguer Jamie Avila, Jr., said. “Seven of us drove 22 hours from Houston (Texas) to be here. This trip is very special to all of us, and I know the kids will remember this for a long time.”
On Saturday, games were played at Howard J. Lamade Stadium and Little League Volunteer Stadium, the same fields that host the annual Little League Baseball World Series games. Also on Saturday, Carl Stotz Memorial Field, near the site of the first Little League games in 1939 and home to Original League, hosted Jamboree games. Lamade and Volunteer Stadiums were the sites for Sunday’s games. Sunday morning, the teams participated in a Pitch, Hit & Run competition supported by Major League Baseball.
“We’ve taken a lot of pictures, and enjoyed playing the games, but on the bus ride home is really when it will hit them about how special these few days were,” Mike Gibson, a volunteer umpire from York (Pa.) City Little League, said. “For the kids to see this place in person is exuberating. For me, I’ve been to Williamsport a couple of times (for the World Series). I’ve sat in the bleachers and on the hill, but being on the field was really special.
“Being a part of the Urban Initiative enhances our community by getting the kids off the streets and teaching them leadership, teamwork and fair play,” Mr. Gibson said. “The most exciting moment for all of us was when Mr. Keener said out of three million Little Leaguers, our league was chosen to come here.”
In 2004, eight Urban Initiative leagues from the Eastern U.S. took part in the inaugural Jamboree. Last year, 10 regular-season teams traveled to Little League International from various points throughout the country.
“In the three years we’ve put on the Jamboree, we’ve been able to reach out to communities across the country and say thanks to all who support Little League through the Urban Initiative,” David James, director of the Urban Initiative, said. “Through the support of Major League Baseball, and the commitment of local Little League volunteers, parents, and the players themselves, this weekend has made a lasting impact well beyond the games. I wish to thank everyone who traveled to the Jamboree, and give a special thanks to those people back home who give selflessly to their local leagues. Without your efforts, local leagues would have little chance to thrive.”
The Little League Urban Initiative Jamboree consisted of games (25) and instruction. Although scores were kept for the games, no champion was declared. Each of the Jamboree teams were housed for three nights, and provided meals, in the Dr. Creighton J. Hale International Grove, where Little League Baseball World Series teams live for two weeks each August.
On Aug. 24, 2003, during the Little League Baseball World Series, Major League Baseball announced it would provide a grant of $250,000 for the Urban Initiative. Part of that grant is used to fund the Jamboree. During the 2005 Little League Baseball World Series, Major League Baseball made its second $250,000 grant to the Little League Urban Initiative. The funding continues to help support the annual Urban Initiative Jamboree, while also affording training and education for Little League volunteers, and contributes to monies used in field renovation projects.
“On behalf of Major League Baseball, its teams, and its players, we are proud to support this event,” Tom Brasuell, vice president of community affairs for Major League Baseball, said. “I think the time will be sooner than later when we’ll see an Urban Initiative league represented at the Little League World Series. The next step will be a player, given a chance to play through the Urban Initiative, making it to the Majors.”
The Little League Urban Initiative has seen success in more than a 60 cities since it began in 2000. In the past year, Lemon Grove Little League near San Diego; Neartown Little League in Houston; Playa Vista Little League in Los Angeles; and South Side Little League in Chicago where among several leagues that received funding and assistance through the Little League Urban Initiative. Currently, more than 175 local Little Leagues in the U.S. are part of the Urban Initiative. Through 2005, the program stimulated the addition of 2,212 teams and 30,000 players.
Little League Baseball and Softball is the world’s largest organized youth sports program, with nearly 2.7 million players and 1 million adult volunteers in every U.S. state and scores of other countries.
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