West Philadelphia: How One Organization Uses Baseball to Teach Sportsmanship and Life Lessons to Players From Diverse Backgrounds

The 48th and Woodland playground has served as the field for many youth baseball players. Regardless of race, gender, and economic status, PAYSA has created a home for everyone within the West Philadelphia community.

Lucy Wang (right) stands in the batters box waiting for the next pitch.

The 48th and Woodland Playground serves as a home for many young children who are dedicating their time to learning the game of baseball while receiving life lessons along the way. This playground also sits at the intersection of multiple neighborhoods such as University City, Cedar Park, and Kingsessing. 

This is where the Philadelphia Athletics Youth Sports Association, also known as PAYSA, brings multiple communities together to create a welcoming environment for children to play baseball.

With children coming from diverse backgrounds, the league teaches them to be accepting of one another. Playing baseball in a community that is at the crossroads of several neighborhoods allows impressionable youth to understand the importance of diversity at an early age. 

Many of the children are teammates with both boys and girls of different races, religions, and economic statuses. Despite their differences, the children are taught to see each other purely as teammates with common goals of making friends and getting better at the game in mind.

“It’s super fun. The coaches are really nice and they really help me,” Lucy Wang, a player in the league said. “There’s always a teammate who’s really good and helps everyone out. I like my teammates a lot and we have fun.” 

Mike Wang, the spring commissioner of the nonprofit league, has been trying to change the lives of as many children as possible since he took the position in 2020.  

“We have a deep-seeded belief in teaching what I would describe as sportsmanship and community through baseball,” Wang said. “I’ve never been involved in a league that does more to act on its convictions and beliefs.” 

The nonprofit baseball league, which has been active since 2014, allows any child to join and accepts all genders, races, religions, and economic statuses.

“Especially in this age of rising consciousness around issues of race, diversity, and power, there isn’t enough opportunity in folks’ everyday lives to really be in a community across lines of racial differences,” Wang said. “I think the location of this field as well as the convictions of the many volunteers, coaches, and parents’ leadership really centers on this idea of creating community.”

Coach Michael Chen (right) discusses his plan with the kids prior to their game.

The baseball league offers both a fall league and spring league for any child who is interested in joining the Philadelphia Athletics Youth Sports Association family. As a nonprofit organization, donations are appreciated and help contribute toward baseball gear as well as registration fees. 

Despite a registration fee of $85 for entry to play at the senior rookie, rookie and tee-ball levels, as well as a $65 fee to play at the pee-wee level, the nonprofit offers financial aid to those whose economic statuses don’t allow them to be able to afford it.

“The league is set up so anyone can join even if you can’t afford the registration fee,” Wang said. “Those who can afford the fee are greatly appreciated because that money then goes to equipment for children and covers the fees for families who don’t have the money at hand.”

Many of the people who assist in making the league work are volunteers who take time out of their own day to contribute to the growth of young children. 

“If there was some sort of council leader or president of all the communities that come together for this league, it would be Lisa,” Wang said. “She has helped this league in many ways that people around here are certainly aware of.”

Lisa Woods, who is locally known as a community advocate, has helped the PAYSA Baseball League with giveaways and concessions. Woods has had a few relatives play in the league as well. 

On Sept. 11, 2021, PAYSA held its fall league opening day. During this event, Woods helped direct the league’s Back-To-School Bookbag Giveaway. 

“I would do anything to see these kids grow and learn and have fun all while playing baseball,” Woods said. “The bookbag giveaway is for those families and kids who aren’t able to spend their money on these things. The least we can do as a league, but more importantly as a community, is to help each other out.”

Four coaches lead a post game huddle after a hard-fought game.

Also among the volunteers are many of the coaches who guide individual teams at each level. As these coaches inspire children to play hard and compete, the adults help kids understand there is more to the league than winning.

Kevin Kearney, both a coach and parent, has his mind set on helping the organization flourish and creating opportunities for its members to develop friendships and sportsmanship. 

“We try to promote camaraderie amongst the teams, especially with kids coming from all around the city,” Kearney said. “We have a lot of parents who will give whatever they can to get things going. It’s a great community of volunteers and parents who are trying to provide a place for the kids to play.”

Michael Tepper, who serves as a head coach for his son’s team as well as an assistant coach for his daughter’s team, has witnessed the impact the league has created within the community over the last few years. He believes the volunteer coaches are a key factor in this league’s growth. 

“I feel like the focus of this league is so much on kids learning and having fun and that makes it fun for coaches,” Tepper said. “I’m trying to devise different ways to get the kids to have fun and learn something along the way. It is a place where kids can have fun regardless of their baseball skills.”

Please email any questions or concerns about this story to: editor@philadelphianeighbors.com.

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