The Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif, has had great success in establishing a book club for youngsters, and the UYA in New Orleans is teaching children to express themselves through a junior broadcasting club. And it's those success stories -- the ones that don't necessarily involve a future college player or first-round Draft pick -- that the league is especially proud of seeing take root.
"Some of these kids aren't players, but they love the game," said Ben Baroody, MLB's senior director of baseball development and Urban Youth Academies. "This gives them an opportunity to still be involved and benefit from the academy without swinging a bat or throwing a ball, which is pretty cool."
The educational aspects have always been important to the UYA mission, and Baroody said the academies seek to create Major League citizens who will grow up to positively impact the community. The project took root early in Compton, the first UYA established, and over time a trend developed.
The children coming to the academy were all different ages, starting as young as kindergarten and ranging all the way up to high school. Tutoring is available five days per week at the Compton UYA, and since some of the children were too young to have homework, the academy stepped in to fill the void.
Now, some of the children meet on Saturday morning. They read together, discuss their books and then they hit the field to learn about baseball and to play it to the best of their abilities.
"Really, the off-the-field benefits are just as important as those on the field," said Baroody. "Its really amazing to see what they've done in Compton. We've got a whole team basically of 8-year-olds and they're all lined up in a row. They've got their uniforms tucked in and they're all focused on what's going on. We've gotten great feedback from parents on seeing the difference from the kids at home."
And that's only the beginning of the academy's mission to instill values like leadership, responsibility and accountability in the youngsters that pass through their doors. New academies are expected to open in Philadelphia and Cincinnati this summer, and they will build on the success of their peers.
The junior broadcasting club, just instituted in New Orleans, will surely catch on elsewhere. A small group of boys have begun calling games from the press box at the academy and doing interviews with players and coaches. They've learned how to record the footage of practices and games and how to turn everything into a finished product, and in some cases, how to further a potential career.
Darrin Scioneaux, a freshman at Dillard University in New Orleans, plans to major in mass communications, and he's gotten invaluable experience at the academy. Scioneaux, takes 16 credits hours at Dillard, but he also works at a grocery store and as a camera operator at his school.
So how does he find the energy to check in at the academy and spend so much time there?
"One thing I really learned growing up was how to manage time efficiently," said Scioneaux. "If you know how to manage your time, you'll be able to do anything that you'd possibly want to do."
Reginald Singleton, another member of the broadcast club, is still a high school student, but he said he's had the opportunity to meet people like Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington and other baseball luminaries. Singleton, though not a baseball player in his own right, has found a passion for the game through the lens of the camera and for finding a way to tell the story.
"I started coming here I think last October, and I've really grown into it," said Singleton, a sophomore at St. Augustine High School. "I love doing this and I love interacting with the players. It's been a really fun experience for me and I think it's something I think I can enjoy doing until I graduate as a senior."
Both students got their start at the academy due to Chad Smith, a local teacher and the coordinator of the broadcasting program. Smith said that the New Orleans UYA would love to enroll more people in the program, and he stressed that he'd love to see women give the potential career a chance.
Smith taught both Singleton and Scioneaux in high school, and he's been able to see them grow as they sharpen their skills and prepare to head out into the world. And now that he has a chance to reach even more children at the academy, Smith is really optimistic about the immediate future.
"Being able to interact with these young man who are able to evolve with the program, it's a jewel for the city and a jewel for these young men to not only see the game of baseball but to know that there are so many careers behind the game," said Smith. "This broadcast program is essential, because it not only teaches them about broadcasting, it teaches them about having confidence and presenting themselves with conversational speech and articulation. Watching these guys evolve and being able to be involved in broadcasting, this is something I've wanted to do since I was in fourth grade. This is a blessing."
The academies are already reaching hundreds of children in their after-school programs, and that number should exponentially increase as more facilities open around the country. The academies have also offered adult education in the form of groundskeeping clinics and umpiring camps, both of which allow members of the community to further their skills and improve their local leagues.
Eventually, every big league city may have an Urban Youth Academy, and every city will have its own distinctive programs aimed at servicing the local community. The plans are big for the Urban Youth Academy, matching the ambitions of countless young children who will come to rely upon them.
"We're still not ultimately where we want to be with the vocational program, but I think in the near future it's a tangible goal to expose these kids to all the different careers the baseball industry can provide," said Baroody. "We can sort of lay out a buffet of all the different options that are out there and then let them choose something that they're most interested in based on experience in each of them."