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Making a Difference the Focus for One Team at the 2008 Urban Initiative Jamboree

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (May 24, 2008) – Having a lasting impression on a group of kids makes spending the majority of each day grooming fields at the Carver Field Little League Complex in Milwaukee, Wis., well worth it for league creator, director, and executive James Beckum.

“I’ve had a lot of kids come through my program,” Mr. Beckum, 79, said. “The best feeling for me is when they come back to me and tell me about how my program helped them.

James Beckum, 79, of Baltimore, Md., pictured here next to a statue of Carl E. Stotz, the founder of Little League Baseball, played professional baseball in the Negro Leagues. In 1964, Mr. Beckum founded the James Beckum Little League in West Baltimore. A Junior League team from that Little League program is a participant in the 2008 Little League Urban Initiative.

“They may not have gone on to become great professional ball players, but knowing they accomplished something using the qualities they learned while playing ball in my league is great,” Mr. Beckum said. “I’ve had players that have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, school teachers, not necessarily ball players, but they are still giving back to their communities in their own way.”

The idea of a Little League team in Milwaukee took shape in 1964, after Mr. Beckum, a former professional baseball player in the Negro Leagues, talked to the pastor at his church about forming a baseball league for kids in the surrounding communities. After finding little interest in a baseball team at first, Mr. Beckum was told about the Little League Baseball program and began soliciting local churches for participation and sponsorship.

“Most of the teams in the area were playing USA Baseball with just a U.S. champion,” Mr. Beckum said. What really got me interested in Little League was being told of the Little League Baseball World Series, which meant the kids would play teams from all over the world. That alone made it really special.”

After lobbying the city of Milwaukee for different pieces of land within its limits, Mr. Beckum was told of a strip of real estate that would shortly become available through the Federal Rebuilding Project taking place. Once he had purchased the land, Mr. Beckum built a complex with not only the kids in his league in mind, but also the parents.

“At that point, parents were driving all over the city of Milwaukee to see their kids games if they had a child in different divisions,” Mr. Beckum said. “By building the complex, the kids and the parents were in the same place and could walk from field to field. It’s important to begin molding these kids differently so they can succeed. By having the parents included in the activities the kids are taking part in, by volunteering or being at the game, helps them improve their lives.”

The Beckum-Stapleton Little League, the longest running league for African American children in the United States, is one of 14 teams participating in Little League Baseball’s Urban Initiative Jamboree this weekend at Little League International in South Williamsport.

When first told of Little League’s interest in his league, Mr. Beckum was surprised and honored.

“I was surprised that people in Williamsport were interested in my team,” Mr. Beckum said. “We see the World Series on television each year, so it’s exciting, both for the kids on the team and myself, to be here and get the opportunity to use the stadiums that we see used on television. Everything here is exciting.”

Mr. Beckum still tends to the five fields at Carver Field each day. The complex includes two major league fields, one minor league field, one senior league field, and one tee ball field as well as an indoor practice facility and a minor league pitching machine.

Grooming these five fields to perfection takes the majority of each day. “It’s definitely worth it,” Mr. Beckum said. “Whenever you have the chance to do something to help someone else out or make a difference in someone else’s life, it’s worth it.”