By Lee Edwards
North Lawndale Police Youth Baseball League players could be heard chanting, "BBF, we're the champs!" as they marched down 15th Street on the West Side on July 14 accompanied by their coaches, parents, well-wishers and a police escort headed toward Franklin Park to launch their inaugural season with a community picnic and some competitive games.
The NLPYBL is an initiative coordinated by Better Boys Foundation Family Services, the Chicago Police Department and Get IN Chicago to develop positive relationships between youth, police and the community at-large.
Chicago Police officers from the 10th and 11th districts serve as coaches, umpires and mentors on each of the league's six teams. The league is co-ed, comprising 100 children ages 9 to 12 years old. The season began on July 14 and concludes August 27 with a championship game.
BBF Executive Director Rufus Williams welcomed the start of the league with high hopes of what it may bring to the community. BBF Family Services takes a holistic approach to improve and enrich the lives of North Lawndale's families by providing a safe developmental center within the community.
"We're looking to create an atmosphere where we have a better understanding of one another to improve the relations between the Chicago Police Department and the community," said Williams. "We also want to bring out families to get everyone involved in the lives of one another with the hopes of building a better fabric of the community."
Get IN Chicago Executive Director Toni Irving said the leagues create an opportunity for both the community and the police to reset how they perceive one another. Get IN Chicago, an organization dedicated to reducing violence in high-risk communities by investing in various programs, sponsored the league's sports equipment, uniforms and paraphernalia.
"The officers are the coaches, so they can spend quality time with people and can understand that these our kids, they're not predators, violent, bad. They're just kids," said Irving. "At the same time, the kids can see they don't have to be afraid of an officer."
Chicago Police Department First District Commander Francis Valdez called the creation of the league fantastic and hoped the games got more kids outside to play, instead of staying indoors playing video games. He said the league will give the community a chance to see officers as human beings.
"We'll have an opportunity to play ball with [the kids], they'll see us play, they'll see us fall like they do and strike out like they may and get a chance to talk to us and realize we're all human," said Valdez. "We all have faults and we all have areas where we can help each other and it just breaks that barrier down."
Ald. Michael Scott, Jr. (24th) attended the league's kick-off picnic and said that, during his tenure as a Chicago Park District manager, he and his staff attempted, unsuccessfully, to create a youth baseball league. He congratulated all the entities involved in creating the league and called for the community to support the players at the games.
"To be able to lend my support to an organization like BBF, who has deep roots in this community, who knows what Lawndale is about and gets what Lawndale needs, to be able to partner with them to get all these young people out here for a baseball league that will continue to grow every year is very, very special," said Scott, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
To learn more about the North Lawndale Police Youth Baseball League, click here.
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