11/26/09 — Baseball league will set sights on helping children

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Baseball league will set sights on helping children

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on November 26, 2009 7:01 AM

An effort to revive youth baseball in the Mar-Mac area is being aimed at not only teaching children how to behave on the field, but off it as well.

Developing character is the touchstone of the TEAMMATES program, said its organizers, who hope it will spread to other areas of the county, including the city of Goldsboro.

The program is based on Dixie Youth League baseball but will go beyond the field to incorporate lessons in life skills, said Steve McKinney, president of the new group that founded the program.

McKinney and vice president Demetrius Sykes are both former Marines and fathers of young children who moved to Wayne County several years ago and became involved in youth sports. The concept of a league that would teach more than hitting and pitching came to them after they learned that Wayne County's juvenile delinquency rate is higher than those of Charlotte, Raleigh or Durham. And the rate has risen dramatically in the past several years.

Every resident of the county needs to realize that they have something to gain by helping young people learn positive values, McKinney said.

He noted that some children are labeled "at risk," but McKinney said the definition should be broader.

Every child in Wayne County is at risk, he said, since they interact with other children from all backgrounds and all are exposed to undesirable materials every day via television, the Internet and a myriad of other sources.

"I truly believe that we're all stakeholders in this," McKinney said, adding that he felt called to do something about the status of young people he sees every day.

"It's one thing to sit on the sideline and complain," he said, "but it doesn't mean anything unless you are ready to get involved."

He and Sykes said their faith has helped convince them that they are doing the right thing.

"We truly believe this is a ministry," McKinney said.

"We can't change the world, but we can help make some changes in Wayne County and in our own neighborhood," Sykes said. "As a parent, our first role is to raise, good, productive citizens. I strongly believe that our country can only be as strong as the citizens we produce. We have a certain role we play in these children's lives, whether we know it or not."

And today, that is especially important, he added.

"When you look at what children face today, they have so much stacked against them. That's why we want to make a positive impact. This isn't just about baseball, it's about life. Baseball just happens to be a sport that is perfect for teaching these lessons. It's a sport of failure. If you're a basketball player and hit 30 percent of your shots, it's not good. If you're a baseball hitter and hit .300, it's great. That helps put life in perspective, that there are positive things that can come even out of a bad situation."

TEAMMATES stands for: Teaching, Empowerment, Advocating, Mentorship, Making a Difference, Achieving, Together,

Encouraging and Service.

The component of the program that goes beyond the field is called "Extra Innings," and will involve parents as well as children in positive activities for four weeks after the season ends. It will focus on nine core values: Courage, determination, teamwork, persistence, integrity, citizenship, justice, commitment and excellence.

Each week of the season is assigned one of the Extra Innings core values as the theme of the week, along with the corresponding life skills that reflect that value. For example, the week that courage is the core value, youths will be taught that it takes courage to accept criticism, to accept responsibility for their actions, to control their emotions and to resist negative peer pressure.

Several businesses already are backing the new program. Among them are Eastern Metal Works, Dave's Customs and Collectibles, Goldsboro Record, Max's Auto and the East Carolina Umpires Association.

And two other people have joined with McKinney and Sykes to form the leadership team. Tara Rodriguez serves as the program's secretary and Tommy Barnet, a senior airman at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, who is currently deployed overseas, is its treasurer.

McKinney said the Mount Olive Recreation Department and the town of Faison have agreed to play in the league when games start in the spring, although the full Extra Innings portion will be available to only the Mar-Mac teams at first.

He also has spoken to Wayne County and Goldsboro government officials, who have been encouraging. And he said he is hoping other adults and businesses will be interested in supporting the program and helping it expand.

David Carter, the director of the city's Parks and Recreation Department, said he hopes the TEAMMATES idea will catch on and spread.

"When I see someone with as much passion and energy and commitment as (McKinney and Sykes), who are willing to give up their time to these kids, it is an inspiration," Carter said. "The more kids we have playing baseball, the better off we are as a community."

For more information, call (919) 429-1359, e-mail extrainnings1@gmail.com or search for Extra Innings baseball on Facebook.