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Off to Running Start: Third Annual Urban Initiative Jamboree Under Way
For 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 are 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 will be on the field for several Jamboree games.
“Everyone was excited about coming to the Jamboree, and I tried to tell our team about having fun, but they all have a competitive edge,” Johnnie Weeks, president of West End Little League from Trenton, N.J., said. “Before coming (to Williamsport), all of these kids could only dream about being here, and now they’re on the World Series field. What’s even more important to me is the kids now know there are other people who care about them instead of just us.”
These children from 10 Urban Initiative Little Leagues arrived at Little League International 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.
On Saturday, games were played at Howard J. Lamade and Little League Volunteer Stadiums, 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 are the sites for Sunday’s games. Sunday morning, the teams will participate in a Pitch, Hit & Run competition supported by Major League Baseball.
“The kids are all very excited to play on the World Series fields and visit the gift shop,” Judy Flores, Team Mom for Encanto Little League, said. “They really wanted to play on the big field (Lamade Stadium). The whole experience is exciting, and the boys will never forget this.”
In 2004, eight Urban Initiative leagues from the Eastern U.S. took part in the inaugural Jamboree. Last year, 10 regular-season teams from leagues aided, or chartered through, the Urban Initiative traveled to Little League International from various points throughout the country.
“The Little League Urban Initiative has quickly evolved into vital component of Little League,” Stephen D. Keener, president and chief executive officer of Little League Baseball and Softball, said. “The smiles on the faces of the players, parents and local league officials attending the annual Jamboree express that success, but moreover illustrate the appreciation for the program, and reinforce how important a role Little League can play in a child’s life.”
The Little League Urban Initiative Jamboree consists of plenty of games (25) and instruction. Although scores will be kept for the games, no champion will be declared. The public is invited to watch the games at no charge.
“The Urban Initiative Jamboree provides a unique opportunity for children who would not normally have the means to participate,” David James, director of the Urban Initiative, said. “The coaches and families will experience the friendship and celebration that all-star players enjoy during the Little League World Series, while the players will get the chance to play on the same fields where Little League’s world champion is crowned, and where the program started.”
Each of the Jamboree teams are being 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, and will enable Little League to present the “Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life” educational program to the visiting teams. Led by Sharon Robinson, daughter of the late Baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, Breaking Barriers is a multi-curricular character education program developed by Major League Baseball. The curriculum is based on the values demonstrated by Jackie Robinson and uses motivating, baseball-themed activities to reinforce literacy skills, mathematics, science and social history in addition to addressing critical issues of character development.
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.
“For the second year, 10 teams from metropolitan areas across the United States have a chance to live a dream, and make lasting memories at the Urban Initiative Jamboree,” Mr. Keener said. “Little League International, with the support of Major League Baseball, welcomes these leagues, the volunteers, the players, and their families to experience and enjoy all that Little League has to offer.”
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 286,000 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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