Negro League Baseball Museum highlights more than Jackie Robinson

negro_league_museumAt the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, a history of African Americans in baseball spans over a century. South L.A. is a big part of that history. John C. Fremont High School and George Washington Preparatory High School in South L.A. are two of the top ten high schools for the number of alumni who have made it to major league baseball. Before Wrigley Field was famous for being the home of the Chicago Cubs, there was a stadium of the same name in South L.A.

Victor Figueroa sat down with the museum’s vice president of curatorial services Raymond Doswell on the museum’s message.

Extreme Friday Nights for South LA teens

Philip Wiley and Colleen are partnered up to run this new program. | Alexa Liacko

Philip Wiley and Colleen are partnered up to run this new program. | Alexa Liacko

Just off the Expo Line in South Central Los Angeles stands the Rancho Cienega Sports Center — a safe haven for young teens, and a place where one man gets to live his passion.

For Philip Wiley, “It’s something that means something to me — it means a lot.”

Wiley, the center’s recreation coordinator, has just launched “Extreme Friday Nights,” a program that gives local teens a place to hang out, play in the gym or do homework. So far, it’s been a big success.

“Look out there and see how many kids are running around! That’s a lot of kids!” Wiley said with a laugh. The program offers young people a place to come play basketball, get online in the computer lab or just come for a snack and some good company.

“If you wanna play basketball and work on your skills, nobody will bother you,” said 15-year-old Valance Sams. It’s safe, and if there’s any violence outside, you just come in here.”

“In this neighborhood, you’ve got a lot of negativity going on — a lot of gang-banging, drive-by shootings,” Wiley said. “If you know the kids are here, doing something constructive and positive, you know it’s gonna keep them out of trouble.”

“I feel safe here, more than when I go somewhere else,” said 13-year-old Jarrell Mickens.

“This gym has kept my from getting into so much trouble—I could’ve gotten into so much by now, but coming here and knowing it’s open every Friday night too…it’s just a good place to get active and have fun,” said Daniel Estes, 17.

Here for a reason

Wiley knows just how much places like the sports center can help young people get on track and stay there. He was orphaned at age 17. “I was lost,” he recalled. “I never knew anything but my parents, and I went to the streets.”

He said he pushed himself to go to community college to honor his parents’ wishes, but that he still “hung out with the guys at night.”

Just when he thought he might never escape being a “thug,” Wiley said the sports center’s director noticed him.

“The director here said, ‘Hey! I need a coach!’ And this lady stayed on me…I guess she saw the good in me,” Wiley said. Once he finally agreed to coach, he realized that “she kind of transformed me into the person that I was destined to be.”

With that encouragement, and eventually a job offer, Wiley discovered his passion—finding the good in others and bringing it out. “What the director did for me, I’m reciprocating for these kids,” he said.

The kids have noticed. “If you’re ever going through anything, he’ll help you with it so you don’t have to go through it alone,” Sams said.

“I treat ‘em just like my boys,” Wiley said. “At this center, we’re coaches, we’re mentors, we’re parents, surrogate parents, counselors. We do it all.”

He made sure that he did something for his parents too. Wiley continued his education and went on to get his master’s degree. He laughed when he asked himself, “Should I be making more money? I mean, probably! I could be making more, but it’s all about the gratification I get from working with these kids. These kids, they’re like my own.”

Many teens now consider the sports center a second home. “Someone took the time to do that for me,” said Wiley, “so I’m gonna do that for them.”

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South L.A.’s Martin Luther King Jr. park scores new sports field

MLK Jr. Elementary 5th grade class with community leaders.

Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary 5th grade class with community leaders. | Stephanie Monte

A class of fifth graders from Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in South L.A. excitedly rushed to score goals at the school’s new sports field on Thursday, just next door at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center.

Councilmember Bernard Parks and representatives from the Department of Recreation and Public Works were on hand to announce the completion of a project that they say will provide a safe place for kids to play and exercise.

To hear comments from Parks and others, click play on an audio story from Annenberg Radio News:

The bright green synthetic grass field measures 80 by 130 feet and is surrounded by fencing and two sets of bleachers. The construction cost about $650,000 from a special project fund. [Read more…]

Dorsey High football coach Paul Knox on the 2013 season

DorseyHighPaul Knox has led Dorsey High School’s football team since 1985. In that time, Knox said he has helped produce at least 20 NFL players — among the highest success rates in the nation. Draftees in 2013 included Johnathan Franklin and Jeremy Harris.

“It’s exciting that we’ve had that kind of talent come through the program and use it as a stepping stone to get to college,” Knox told Annenberg Radio News. “Some have been fortunate enough to play in the NFL.”

Click play to hear more comments from Knox and the sounds of a recent team practice in a story from Annenberg Radio News:

Coliseum deal could go forward today

The California Science Center Board of Directors could vote at its meeting June 5 to approve the latest terms of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum lease agreement with USC.

If approved by the Board, the agreement would give USC full managing rights at the state historical landmark and guarantee the university 70 percent of the parking spaces in the Science Center’s deck on 25 event days per year (33 if the NFL uses the stadium temporarily). It would also extend USC’s lease from 2054, the expiration date agreed upon in a December 2012 plan, to 2111 — a 98-year deal.

But opponents of the deal spoke out at public forums this week, saying that the loss of parking would take both revenue and visitors away from the California African American Museum , the California Science Center and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. [Read more…]

Natasha Watley Softball League starts season in South L.A.

Photo from The Natasha Watley Foundation website

Photo from The Natasha Watley Foundation website

The sixth annual Natasha Watley Softball League opens in South Los Angeles tomorrow June 5th.  Natasha Watley is a two-time Olympic  softball medalist who created by the Natasha Watley Foundation in partnership with the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks.

The league includes 180 South L.A. girls from age nine to 12 and a dozen softball teams from 10 recreation centers all in South L.A.  The Natasha Watley Foundation was established in 2008 to provide girls in underserved communities the opportunity to learn and play softball.

The opening event will be held at 6 pm at the Algin Sutton Recreation Center, 8800 S. Hoover St. in the Vermont Vista neighborhood.   The event will also include a free clinic and a special appearance by Watley.

Watley had an all-star softball career at UCLA as a four-time first-team AllAmerican and All-Pac 10 selection at shortstop.  She won a gold medal a the 2004 Olympics and a silver at the 2008 games.