Imagine the simplicity of playing catch or getting your knees dirty after a few hours outside. Thanks to programs like Fairhill’s Urban Sports Zone, the youth can take it a step further and become part of a real team.
Understanding that athletics make up an essential part of a child’s life, mentors like Anthony Luker and Johnny Wilson donate their time and efforts to the youth. The two helped start Urban Sports Zone after the Lighthouse organization in Fairhill reduced its budgets in sports and recreation.
“I believe there needs to be more value put on sports as a valuable life learning tool,” said Wilson, the manager of sports and recreation at Lighthouse. “ Through sports you learn how to interact with others of all ages and ideas. The overall support for sports has been minimal at best.”
Wilson and Luker both coach the Lighthouse baseball teams on a weekly basis. They have come to notice that each year the monetary efforts to support athletics in the area seem to dwindle. With the large amount of youth who continue to pursue their athletic talents, programs like Urban Sports Zone rely on consistent support.
“There are a lot of people out here who put in a lot of hard work from a voluntary aspect,” Luker said. “But as far as the resources that are pumped into the actual programs, I think those are lacking to a great degree and I think that it is something that needs to be improved upon.”
Relying on the help from volunteers, Urban Sports Zone has received help from the Philadelphia Police, local college athletes, and both civic and professional organizations. The Urban Sports Zone is a non-profit organization that relies on support by private donors. This will serve in offsetting the required cost from the participating youth. The program has partnered itself with several other associations that have donated financial support.
The baseball program consists of individual baseball teams that range from ages 12 to 14 and 16 to 19. It aims to deliver a safe, affordable and sports-oriented environment for the urban youth. It also remains focused on providing the players a number of services including: mentoring, athletic instruction, core values and positive social development.
Part of the Urban Sports Zone’s belief system includes understanding the needs and wants of the youth in the area. Through communication and a safe environment, this program protects the students from the high-risk community.
“The fact that these coaches don’t live in the area they coach in, it means a lot for them to want to bring their knowledge of the game to us as kids who have been through a struggle,” Max Alvarado said. Alvarado is just one of the Community College of Philadelphia students who still lean on the support of the Lighthouse team.
All of the older participants in the program have the chance to participate in tournaments that offer college scouting and recruitment. Those players will also participate in at least one college showcase.
Volunteers such as Luker also help out with the younger kids for the in-house program. That program consists of neighborhood youth that are able to participate against each other. The purpose of the program is for young children to learn sound fundamentals in order to make them better people as well as improved baseball players.
Part of what makes this program successful is the strong values that it upholds such as, improvement through education, teamwork, honesty and cleanliness of the environment.
Although there are fees for joining the teams, the program understands the financial status of the players. Each teammate is provided with a complete uniform after dues, that depicts both the logo and the colors of the Urban Sports Zone.
Parents in the area undoubtedly believe in the baseball teams that Lighthouse provides. Their children come out of the program with a more positive attitude, training and a different outlook of their community.
“It taught me to manage my time. Like this team, they say six o’clock; you have to be here at six o’clock,” college student Wilson Santiago said. “Coming here I wasn’t too good at baseball, but then I learned a lot. Now I play for college baseball because of these guys right here.”
The program plans to host one summer tournament this year. The tournament will include: round-robin play, each team playing a minimum of four games, local media coverage, sponsorship and more.
Although the Lighthouse Field is currently being occupied by a spring carnival, the proceeds are being donated back to The Lighthouse.
The benefits that come from children of all ages partaking in programs like these are undeniable. The Urban Sports Zone will afford the youth with opportunities for widespread exposure, and experiences that exist beyond their current environment.
“I just see overall camaraderie that is always built amongst the players that have been able to participate out here with us,” Luker said.