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Little League Volunteer Tony Richardson Brings History, Perspective to Little League Urban Initiative Jamboree

Little League Volunteer Tony Richardson Brings History, Perspective to Little League Urban Initiative Jamboree

2009UI Tony Richardson

The Little League Urban Initiative Jamboree is in its sixth year, and each year, Tony Richardson, Little League’s New Jersey State Director, has showcased items from his unique collection of baseball memorabilia to enlighten today’s generation of children.

Mr. Richardson, an avid collector of Negro Leagues nostalgia since 1995, has been coming to the event since its 2004 inception to share his assortment of signed bats, posters, balls and jerseys with interested players and coaches. For the past two years, Mr. Richardson has loaned pieces of his collection to the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum.

This year, Mr. Richardson presented “Breaking Barriers, In Sports, In Life,” a 13-year-old, Major League Baseball-sponsored program designed to help children overcome challenges in life. The program draws from the nine values promoted by Jackie Robinson, one of Mr. Richardson’s idols and an often-used example in his talks.

“You always read about what he was doing, and because of what he did he opened a lot of doors for people like myself,” Mr. Richardson said. “If you look at the ‘Breaking Barriers’ program, it includes the words, ‘In life,’ and ‘in sports,” because there’s really no difference. Sports are just a transition into life.”

Mr. Richardson grew up with Jackie Robinson as a hero. Born in 1946 in Jacksonville, Fla., Mr. Richardson grew up in an era of segregation, even after Mr. Robinson had broken Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947.
He played baseball in high school, but because of issues with money he was forced to quit and begin working at a local movie theater cleaning floors and bathrooms. Despite his employment, he was not able to see any movies due to segregation laws.

After high school, Mr. Richardson joined the army and later attended Edward Waters College, an all-African-American college in Jacksonville. He majored in physical education and had a job lined up to coach football in Georgia, but in 1971 he was recruited by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). He joined the FBI in October of that year. In 1999, he retired from the Bureau after 30 years of service.

Throughout his adult years, Mr. Richardson has never forgotten about baseball. From the time his two sons were able to play, he coached their youth leagues and eventually became a league president. In 1992, he focused on coaching his younger son’s team, and eventually found himself in the Senior League Baseball World Series in Florida. His team lost in the finals, but Mr. Richardson has always tried to use the experience as motivation for others.

 “I want to let children know that they can do just anything they want to do,” Mr. Richardson said. “When I grew up, they used to tell me, ‘You can be anything you want to be, even president of the United States.’ I never believed them. I heard them, but I never believed that. Then all of a sudden today … pigs fly. We’ve got a black President.

“When I was in high school, at an all-black school of course, our books were hand-me-downs from other white-schools,” Mr. Richardson said. “That didn’t bother me, though, because I looked at Jackie Robinson. I used him to forge forward. I want these kids here to be able to appreciate how generations before them have succeeded because of the lessons Jackie taught them.”

For Mr. Richardson, the life lessons of Jackie Robinson all come down to a simple story. Recently, he walked to the corner mailbox in his hometown of Neptune, N.J., and was greeted by a neighbor standing there with his son.
“I just bought my son a new glove,” his neighbor said. “He’s been waiting here all afternoon for you to come so he could ask you the best way to break it in.”

“That,” Mr. Richardson said, “is why I do what I do.”

Mr. Richardson’s collection of autographed memorabilia from the Negro Leagues can be seen at the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum until the close of the Little League Urban Initiative Jamboree this Sunday.