02/22/04 — Volunteers needed to help start inner-city baseball league

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Volunteers needed to help start inner-city baseball league

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on February 22, 2004 2:03 AM

A plan to revive baseball and softball leagues for inner-city children is moving forward, needing only the help now of committed volunteers.

"We're having a meeting Monday, and we want to see what kind of response and participation we can get from the public," says Richard "Rooster" Narron. "We want to see who would be willing to commit."

The commitment he's looking for is not from the young people, but from adult volunteers.

"We'll have a meeting for the kids later," Narron said. "Right now it's important to get adults involved. We have had some indications that people are interested, and we want to let them know we're ready to go."

The meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the board room next to council chambers in City Hall.

Narron, a Goldsboro businessman and former professional baseball player, began talking with Mayor Al King almost a year ago about starting a league. The two were concerned about how Goldsboro was losing baseball talent from the black community.

Narron said that traditionally Goldsboro has had great baseball, but that it had deteriorated to the point where young people didn't have an opportunity to develop their skills.

When Coach Charles Lane, Garry Phifer and Gene Thomas heard about the plans for an inner-city league, they offered their help to start the process.

Thomas, director of the Goldsboro Housing Authority, said he got involved in the project because he knew there was a need for it.

"A number of the kids this effort would target, live in the housing areas I supervise," he said. "This will be a good learning experience for the kids, not only because of the sports, but learning life skills. I encourage churches, sororities or fraternities to get involved."

Phifer, a baseball enthusiast, has been researching nationwide efforts to revive baseball in the inner cities.

"There are a large number of 'RBI' -- Revitalizing Baseball in the Inner Cities -- all over the country," Phifer said. "It's a beautiful game that has almost been lost in the inner city. The African-American baseball player -- where is he?"

Narron said that many young people might know the name Jackie Robinson, but have no idea what he went through to play baseball. If they join the Goldsboro league, they'll know about Robinson because the league will be named after the baseball great.

Phifer said the Goldsboro Jackie Robinson League baseball and softball programs would provide its young players with the opportunity to learn and play quality baseball while developing respect for their coaches, their teammates and opponents and -- most important -- for themselves.

Lane, King and Narron took a trip last fall to find out more about Greenville's successful inner-city baseball league. King said they came back with some good ideas.

"In Greenville they are supported financially by area churches, sororities and fraternities," King said. "They are self-supporting through donations."

Greenville has six teams, composed of around 90 children, and has been in existence for 12 years.

"Greenville has a track record, and we'll copy what's good and what has worked, but drop what hasn't worked," King said.

Both King and Narron say it's essential for baseball players to begin playing the game at an early age.

"It's easier to develop basketball and football skills later on," King said, "but baseball needs to be started young."

Narron says that by the time a youngster reaches 13 or 14, it's much more difficult to teach baseball skills.

"You have to start this at a young age for common-sense reasons," Narron said. "Baseball is a sport where you start building skills at 6, 7, 8 years old. They start playing softball to get the experience and build every year."

King said that at an older age, children have a tendency to back up, or shy away from, the ball.

"It's more difficult, and they'll give up," King said.

The biggest challenge, says King, is not getting money to pay for the equipment or uniforms. It's getting adults to coach and teach players.

Both Narron and King said that volunteers didn't need to know anything about baseball to get involved.

Knowledge of baseball is not a requirement," Narron said. "All we need is a willingness to 'pitch' in and help."

Adults willing to help get the leagues started need to go to Monday's meeting. For more information, call King at 580-4330 or Narron at 731-7321.