Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

They Can Learn about Baseball -- and about Life

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

They Can Learn about Baseball -- and about Life

Article excerpt

Byline: Sandy Strickland, Staff writer

Eight-year-old Carleon Jefferson was on a roll.

He'd bested his opponent in checkers. He'd won at Uno, a card game. And he and his teammates won their baseball game by a lopsided score of 9-2. So he was anxious to get back on the diamond for another go.

"I like baseball, and I like sports," said Carleon, who lives in Blodgett Villas.

Riverside Presbyterian Church's baseball camp attracts as many as 90 youngsters like Carleon for a sandlot version of the game. It started three summers ago in an attempt to introduce inner-city kids to the sport.

They don't have as much exposure to baseball because of lack of equipment or role models to teach them the game, said Roger Maness, director of community life ministries at Riverside Presbyterian.

The three-week camp, which goes through Thursday is held at Willowbranch Park off Park Street. It brings in youngsters from such nearby neighborhoods as Five Points and Central and West Riverside, as well as the Sanctuary of Northeast Florida in Springfield and the I.M. Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless downtown.

Baseball is the medium. Learning about each other is the message, Maness said.

"It's a healthy get-to-know-you kind of atmosphere," he said. "They're with other kids in a safe environment. They learn about life and that there are adults that care about them."

Target age is 8 to 13. Those older can serve as counselors, and those a year or two younger can participate if their older siblings come, he said.

It's baseball, sandlot-style. The number of teams depends on how many kids show up. They are taught the fundamentals and then the action begins. On a recent day, Willowbranch was abuzz, with girls playing softball in one corner and boys at two others.

When they needed a break, they headed for the shade of the oak trees where a rectangular table and folding chairs were set up for board games and such crafts as stringing multi-colored beads into necklaces. …

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