Wednesday, November 24, 2021
For the second consecutive year, the Washington Nationals were named a finalist for Major League Baseball’s prestigious Allan H. Selig Award for Philanthropic Excellence. The Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, the signature program of Nationals Philanthropies, has long been the neighborhood-level expression of the organization’s commitment to community impact. With high-quality youth baseball and softball opportunities at its core, the Academy delivers programs to under-resourced D.C. communities that increase the number of children who derive lifelong benefits from our great game.
The Power of Play
Organized youth sports, especially when facilitated by adults utilizing positive coaching techniques, offer a variety of short and long-term benefits to young people who participate. Further, youth sports represent a vehicle to disrupt systemic inequities faced by those living in underserved communities with the power to produce generational change resulting from improved academic and health outcomes propelled by high-quality, accessible and sustained sports experiences.
Consistent access to youth sports is critical to continued development. The Academy uniquely offers a continuum of development with an introductory program for beginners (YBA PLAY) serving as a funnel to a competitive baseball and softball program (HUSTLE). Together, these programs not only produce baseball and softball talent but also improve the social emotional skills and overall physical health of area youth.
YBA PLAY: Introduction to Baseball
In YBA PLAY, kids ages 6 to 12 learn the game of baseball and fall in love with the sport. Year-round programs plus a summer league target children in communities with poverty rates above local and national averages. YBA PLAY uses creative instruction and emphasizes repetition – ensuring near constant activity for 60 minutes. To support this environment, the Academy recruits and trains a volunteer coaching staff of Washington-area community members. Low player-to-coach ratios deliver personalized attention to every child.
To date, YBA PLAY has welcomed over 3,300 participants to learn the game of baseball and softball, and has been supported by dozens of volunteers.
HUSTLE: Competitive Baseball
Following the success of the 2017 Mamie Johnson Little League team, a cadre of Academy Scholar Athletes aged out of the organized league. Many of these young men got their start in baseball with YBA PLAY clinics and wanted more baseball, but the annual cost of travel and a lack of nearby programs left them with limited options. HUSTLE provides year-round training and competitive gameplay for its participants as well as experiential learning opportunities and exposure to high school and college coaches through showcase events. While skill development is important, the priority is character development – using baseball and softball to instill the lessons of leadership, accountability, teamwork and a growth mindset.
The HUSTLE program began as a way to serve the competitive and developmental needs of a dozen talented ballplayers and now serves 90 youth annually, offering both baseball and softball.
Case Study in Success
Solomon McKinney, now 15, entered the Academy as a shy and timid fourth grader with few friends. He had never touched a baseball until participating in YBA PLAY clinics. Living two blocks away from the facility, the Academy became a baseball sanctuary for him – a place close to home where he fell in love with the sport, mastered it, and gained self-confidence. He graduated from the Academy boisterous and outgoing with the nickname “Big Shot” because of his popularity on and off the field. Solomon continues to excel at baseball for Riverdale Baptist High School and utilizes additional training and competition opportunities through HUSTLE. He was recently selected as part of the Breakthrough Series Team participating in the 2021 WWBA Underclass World Championship and received a 2021 Hank Aaron Invitation selection.
When coupled with YBA PLAY, the HUSTLE program ensures availability of a full youth baseball and softball development continuum to young people previously shut out from such opportunities, increasing the likelihood that all D.C. children have the chance to reap the many life-long benefits of participation.
Congratulations to our friends at the Kansas City Royals and Royals Charities for winning the 2021 honor in recognition of remarkable efforts through the Urban Youth Academy to provide support for youth and community resources.