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'I Want My Players to Know About Jackie Robinson'

April 12, 1997

Tuesday marks the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut into major league baseball as a Brooklyn Dodger. To promote the continued involvement of inner-city youths in baseball, Jay Wallace and Billy Mills organized the Jackie Robinson Babe Ruth Baseball League in 1982, the nation's only inner-city league among Babe Ruth clubs.

Myles Goodson is a coach and vice president in the league. A retired pharmaceutical salesman who is beginning a second career as a teacher, Goodson spoke to MARY REESE BOYKIN about keeping Robinson's legacy alive.

In the early 1980s, there was a decrease in the number of baseball teams in the innercity. Part of the reason was youth gang involvement. The other was that basketball tended to dominate in the black community; our kids liked its fast pace. Their heroes changed to athletes like Magic Johnson.

Recreational centers in the innercity no longer had enough players to form leagues within their parks. Consequently, the Jackie Robinson Babe Ruth Baseball League was chartered as a way of incorporating the different recreational centers into an organized program that would be part of a national and international organization.

We serve 60 to 90 kids between the ages of 13 and 15. Most of our six teams are from South-Central Los Angeles.

A lot of people look at where the kids are from and visualize them as being hard-core, gangbanging variety. But when they get to know them, they see how wrong this perception is. I have never had any problems with the kids. They know when you care about them and what course of action is best for them.

I joined the league as a coach in 1985. Besides coaching, my responsibilities include coordinating the whole league: uniforms, umpires, parks. The main reason for my involvement is to develop good character in our inner-city youths. We like winning but value and reward character and good sportsmanship. The team also promotes intercultural cooperation and friendships between its primarily black and Latino players.

And I want my players to know about Jackie Robinson. Our young kids are unaware of what it took for him to get to play baseball--the temperament and character of a man who broke down the barriers of society. After all, baseball was a stalwart of a segregated society. I tell them that what Jackie Robinson did was a stepping stone of what they can do for themselves and others. It is important that we continue to recruit and nurture inner-city youths to follow in his footsteps so that they can be a benefit, not a liability, to society.

Our league is the poorest Babe Ruth league in the country. Our $50 fee includes uniforms and all expenses. Most leagues charge $150 to $200. For many years during tournament play, our league's slogan was "Look poor, play rich," because our kids wore mismatched uniforms, socks and caps. I would tell them, "Uniforms don't hit balls. Brand new hats don't make a base. It's not what clothes you wear, but what's in your heart." Thanks to a one-time grant from the Amateur Athletic Foundation in 1996, we were able to purchase uniforms for our all-star tournament teams.

I deal with a lot of scouts. What we hope to do is give players an appreciation for baseball, encourage them to make good grades and improve their ability to play so that they can earn either a college scholarship or a contract to play major or minor league ball. In some cases, a kid's family income is as low as $6,000 a year. I have a kid who has never been able to finish the baseball season because has to bring in income for his family. He is an academic genius. My goal is to get this kid a scholarship.

But I preach the importance of being a total person. I tell the players not to rely on sports as a saviour but to use sports as a vehicle to become a teacher, lawyer, doctor, minister, businessman or any other profession.

Sometimes, I would make a game out of doing mock interviews. I would ask a question. If the player said, "You know," he was out. They learned to be articulate.

I take the kids to museums to let them know that there is more to life than the street corner where they live. For my 41st and Compton team, I found that the majority of the players have a life centered five to 10 miles from where they live. Going to the Westside can be a big adventure.

I am proud to promote the Jackie Robinson legacy. He was a role model to me. He opened people's minds to make them better. Once he got into the league, he showed the American public what one person can do to transform the great game of American baseball. 'Our young kids are unaware of what it took for him to get to play baseball--the temperament and character of a man who broke down the barriers of society.'

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