SAVING OUR YOUTH

Bolton: Turning baseball into a teaching tool

Associate EditorJanuary 8, 2014 

Warren Bolton

TIM DOMINICK/TDOMINICK@THESTATE.

— ONE DAY, while two boys were playing near an old well on the edge of town, one of them lost his balance and fell in. His friend raced to town for help. The fire department came. So did the police department. And the mayor. And the church. And the community. All came running — with their ropes.

Firefighters confidently tossed in their rope to save the youth. But it was too short. Police officers pushed their way to the front and dropped their rope below. It, too, proved too short. Likewise, the mayor’s rope, the church’s rope and, yes, the community’s rope all came up short. As the grownups stood pondering what they should do next, the friend of the boy who was stuck in the well spoke up. “Why don’t you all tie your ropes together and lower it down to the bottom to pull John to the top?”

Genius! Work together to pull the boy to safety. And that’s just what they did: By tying the fire department’s rope and the police department’s rope and the mayor’s rope and the church’s rope and the community’s rope together, they were able to pull the youngster to safety.

No doubt, we’ve all heard some version of that tale. Its point is clear and direct. It’s a point the Columbia community should heed as it searches for ways to combat gangs and youth violence as well as to help our children become solid, productive citizens.

That spirit of collaboration is certainly at the heart of a new program being offered to fourth and fifth graders at Greenview Elementary School in Richland 1. It’s called Badges for Baseball, and it’s a community crime-prevention and youth-development program that uses sports as a hook to pair youth with mentors from the field of law enforcement.

The program is supported via a partnership between the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and the S.C. attorney general’s office.

“The objective is for us to support the parents and the school system in pouring as much into these children as we can,” said C.L. “Josh” Lorick, director of the Youth Mentor Program in the attorney general’s office.

Elements of the program include coaching and mentoring “the Ripken way,” group management techniques, program and youth development best practices and Healthy Choices, Healthy Children curriculum training.

Each session of the program lasts 12 weeks, with students meeting on Mondays. The first session ended last month, and another begins Monday and runs through March 31.

Each Monday, nearly 50 participants — boys and girls — board a bus after school and are taken to Meadowlake Park, where they do homework and participate in activities and lessons aimed at enriching their lives. The youngsters are exposed to units that focus on character-building, sportsmanship, teamwork, leadership, self respect, respect for others and more.

Mr. Lorick, pastor of Rehoboth United Church in Columbia, said there are two key elements to the program — exposure to sports and exposure to positive mentoring relationships with law officers.

The entire program is centered around a game called quick ball, which is based on baseball and is designed to get youth interested in the national pastime as well as softball. The idea is to teach baseball-related skills and stress teamwork in a setting that allows everyone an opportunity to play, regardless of ability.

It’s an upbeat, fast-paced game that grabs kids’ attention. Mr. Lorick said all the youths get an at bat. Whether they make contact or not, they get to run the bases.

As more sites open up to host the program — two more areas have been identified — the idea is to have them compete with one another. Ultimately, the expectation is that youths’ interest in baseball will grow and they will begin to play the sport.

Mr. Lorick said that giving the Greenview Elementary students the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with law-enforcement officers is critical to their development. Richland County sheriff’s deputies, primarily school resource officers, assist with the program.

The Ripken Foundation prefers to run the program through the offices of attorneys general, Mr. Lorick said. He said Attorney General Alan Wilson learned about it at a conference and wanted to bring it to Columbia. While the attorney general’s office has been hands-on in establishing and operating the program, ultimately, the plan is for that office to take on a support role while law enforcement oversees the program.

Badges for Baseball, which is offered free to participants, is made possible through funding from the Ripken Foundation and the state Legislature. It is supported by the attorney general’s office and the Richland County Sheriff’s Department as well as the Wylie Kennedy Foundation and the Richland County Recreation Commission. The Kennedy Foundation, affiliated with Bethlehem Baptist Church in north Columbia, transports the children from school to the park, which is made available courtesy of the recreation commission.

“Those are ideal partners,” Mr. Lorick said. He said the lines of communication are clear and open among the participants and that it’s the kind of collaboration that needs to take place across the community as efforts continue to reach out to children.

In other words, those entities — from the attorney general’s office to the recreation commission — have tied their individual ropes together to lower it to students who need positive alternatives to help lift them to safety.

Mr. Lorick said he believes Columbia is ready to pull together to do what’s best for this community’s youth. “I think the community is starting to get it. We’ve had a lot of discussion about what needs to be done,” he said.

While this is a new program, it’s one that seems to have promise. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share others — old and new — that are attempting to save our youth and reduce crime and gangs in our community.

Saving Our Youth

An occasional look at organizations in our community that are working to channel young people into positive pursuits.

Previous columns

Jan. 5, 2014 - More police alone isn’t the answer to gangs in Columbia

Dec. 12, 2013 - Columbia community must come up with ways to save our kids

Reach Mr. Bolton at (803)771-8631 or wbolton@thestate.com.

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