Durham baseball league plays defense against teen crime
Posted May 28, 2013 9:49 p.m. EDT
Updated May 28, 2013 11:43 p.m. EDT
Durham, N.C. — Encouraging athletics, academics and community involvement, Durham's Long Ball Program has all the bases covered to keep inner-city teens off the streets and away from crime.
The baseball program is entering its fifth season of offering free-of-charge league play, conditioning clinics and life skills seminars to about 120 Durham teens.
"Baseball is just the avenue to reach the kids," said Myra Blackwell, vice president of the Long Ball Program. "If the kids don't have anything positive or constructive to do with their time, they are falling behind, going to gangs, going to the streets."
Many teens are even going to jail.
According to the Durham Police Department, nearly 1,000 minors were arrested for serious crimes in 2012, including a half-dozen for homicide. In the first three months of 2013, police made nearly 250 juvenile arrests.
Organizers, parents and players say the Long Ball Program can help curb those numbers.
"You're not just sitting in the house. You stay out of trouble," said 17-year-old Fred Parker. "If you let the streets build on you, then you can get in trouble."
"I've been in the program for about four years," said 16-year-old Eric Evans. "It makes me grow more maturely. ... We talk about baseball stuff and what will help us as a man. "
Daquan Hill, 17, adds that Long Ball has helped him develop friendships and teamwork skills.
"You don't always have to be a product of your environment," Blackwell said. "They are doing something positive out there and we want them to do something positive in their community."
In addition to baseball, Blackwell stresses education. Any teen in the program with less than a C average in school must attend mandatory tutoring.
"This program has a lot to give to people," Andres Ramirez-Hernandez, 14, said.
Blackwell adds that the program is entirely run by volunteers – some are parents, others are just members of the community who refuse to let teens strike out. Though they can't change teens' environments, they can help them build skills to succeed.
"We want to show them to think outside the box," she said. "You can either follow along those lines or you can change your way of thinking and say, 'I am more than this.'"