06/07/04 — Goldsboro's junior ball leagues in business

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Goldsboro's junior ball leagues in business

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on June 7, 2004 2:01 PM

When Mayor Al King and Richard "Rooster" Narron began talking about a baseball and softball league for inner-city children last year, they both figured it would take several years to organize.

Instead, it took less than a year for city volunteers to put together the Jackie Robinson League, which kicked off its season Saturday morning at Fairview Baseball Field.

"This is a dream come true," said King. "This is most inspirational, and we have so many people to thank."

The young ball players lined up on the field, ages 5 to 10, their faces bright with excitement. Parents moved along the perimeter of the field, taking pictures and videos of the various teams. There were about 50 kids ready to play ball.

King and Narron joined League President Garry Phifer on the baseball diamond for opening ceremonies, along with a brief synopsis of how the league was formed.

"You are a Godsend," King told Phifer. "You are the angel I asked for from the Man Above."

Narron, a Goldsboro businessman and former professional baseball player, began talking with 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, 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, researched 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?"

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

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.

The league also received the first item for its trophy case during Saturday's ceremonies, a limited issue of a Jackie Robinson collector's plate from Wilmington resident Roy Arntsen.

Arntsen presented the plate to King during opening ceremonies.

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."

Narron said his father, Sam Narron, played with Jackie Robinson, and he was proud to be a part of the Goldsboro league.

"Play hard, play as much as you can and play it right," Narron said. "If you've got ability, it will come out."