Grad students pitch in
By Charlotte Crystal
isnt just about pitching, hitting and fielding the ball.
Its also about practice, patience and perseverance, says
three Ps are some of the skills as valuable in life
as on the ball field that Nichols and several other U.Va.
graduate students are teaching a handful of players in Charlottesvilles
McIntire Little League this season.
are profound lessons in sports, especially about dealing with
success and failure, said Nichols, a doctoral candidate
in American history who played Little League baseball growing
up and was a catcher in college at Harvard and Wesleyan universities.
Kids with problems in their lives have important lessons
to learn at this age: Dont give up. Keep trying. It takes
practice. It takes hard work.
is one of a dozen or so University grad students reaching out
to city children, primarily African Americans, who would like
to participate in Little League baseball, but have a hard time
getting to practice. Through Practice Partners, a program started
last year by Brian Balogh, associate professor of history at U.Va.,
and the McIntire Little League, kids who need transportation are
matched with grad students with cars and a love of baseball.
students are terrific, said David Mattern, senior associate
editor of The Papers of James Madison and currently the coach
of the McIntire Little Leagues Dodgers, a team of 6- to
8-year-olds. Theyre enthusiastic and responsible and
have a real affection for the kids. Plus theyre terrific
ballplayers. The students who helped me last year all played in
college, and one played semi-pro for the Charlottesville Blues.
They can really teach and the kids really listen.
by Peggy Harrison
law student Rai Wilson, above right, gives tips on hitting,
while grad. history student Chris Nichols, above left, gives
pointers on catching. Wilson and Nichols volunteer in the
Practice Partners program. Partners roles can include
taking kids to and from little league practices and games,
coaching or donating equipment.
Partners is still warming up this year, said Nichols, who is heading
the program now. Hed like to double the size of the program
this year to 20 students and is still looking to
sign up talent. He hopes the North Grounds Softball League will
be a good source. Well work with anybody, but we prefer
people with some baseball skills, he said.
year, the U.Va. students not only supplied transportation to and
from games and practices, but also visited the children during
the week, offering friendship and catching or batting practice.
something I believe in, said Nichols. Its fun.
Besides, these interactions can make a difference in the kids
players who participated last year later enrolled in a tutoring
program at school.
try to be role models for the kids, to show them that the glass
is half-full, Nichols said.
conceived Practice Partners as a way for the McIntire Little League
to reach out to the minority community. The adoptive father of
three African-American children, Balogh, who is white, noticed
that when his two sons, Dustin, now 15, and Jake, now 13, played
Little League baseball, there were few minority players,
fewer minority coaches and no minority managers.
of the reason, he thought, might be the leagues name at
the time the Dixie Little League. After joining the board
and discussing the issue with African-Americans in the community,
Balogh persuaded the league to change its name to the McIntire
Little League about five years ago.
he turned his attention to ways the league could be more active
in recruiting and retaining minority players.
of local minority families did not have the time, available transportation
or family tradition of playing baseball. A lack of equipment was
often a factor as well. He worked with David Spinosa, then McIntire
Little League president, to find a constructive way to make the
league reflect the areas complexion.
launched the program last year with several U.Va. students, an
alum and 11 local ballplayers, ages 12 and under. The program
attracted grad students from the College of Arts & Sciences,
the School of Law and the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration.
with Nichols, last years participants included Rai Wilson,
a J.D./Ph.D. candidate at the Law School who played in the outfield
while an undergraduate at Princeton University, and Chris Williams,
a defensive back for the U.Va. football team. Baloghs sons
also helped out.
who worked with three U.Va. students last summer, is emphatic
about the students impact on his team the 9- to 12-year-old
Twins. The youngest kid had never played before but made
tremendous progress after his baseball buddy bought him a glove,
he said. Without the students help, half of my kids
wouldnt have made it to the games.
U.Va. students reminded the kids that even the best baseball players
fail seven out of 10 times. If they quit after the first six failures,
theyd stay failures. Instead, they step up to the plate
whenever their name is called, eyeball the pitcher and swing hard.