More than 1,400 youth from 60 Toronto Community Housing neighbourhoods geared up for the 26th annual Rookie League baseball program�s opening day at Stan Wadlow Park on July 3.
Rookie League, a partnership between Jays Care Foundation and Toronto Community Housing, is a fun, active and engaging summer-long baseball day camp for youth. The free program helps to build strong communities by teaching youth life lessons about teamwork, leadership and fair play, on and off the field. �
The batting begins as a Rookie Leaguer takes his first swing at the ball.
�The direct partnership between the Blue Jays and Toronto Community Housing, and all of our other partners that come on board, is very important because we know that we�re reaching kids in their communities and homes,� said Jays Care Foundation Executive Director Danielle Bedasse.�
�We�re connected with the families, we are connected with the mentors in those communities and we know that the communities are connected to each other. Our ability to be a part of that and foster those friendships and those relationships through playing baseball together is a really important piece of community building.�
Stayce Grant, Toronto Community Housing staff member gears up the crowd during the opening ceremony.
Busloads of ecstatic youth gathered together, all ready to play ball. Youth received Blue Jays Academy t-shirts, hats and water bottles along with gloves and baseball equipment. After burning their energy on the field, the participants were refueled with hot dogs straight off the barbeque and refreshing drinks.
Rookie League staff offer pointers to Rookie League participants.
During the opening ceremony, Greg Spearn, Toronto Community Housing Interim President and CEO, welcomed participants and reminded them to always have fun. �This is an outstanding opportunity for all of our kids from across all of our communities to get together and play,� said Greg.�
�Learning teamwork is really one of the major building blocks of growing up. To be able to go out there, have fun and meet other kids from different communities is important. I can�t imagine a summer without it.�
From left to right: Jennifer Wood, Toronto Community Housing board member; Greg Spearn, Interim President and CEO; and Lenna Bradburn, Vice President, Resident and Community Services stop for a smile at Rookie League opening day.
Layla, eight years old, is one of the 71 per cent of kids in the program who have never experienced baseball. �I�m excited to play baseball for the first time, but mostly to learn how to bat,� she said.�
A resident of Flemingdon Park, Layla will be participating in the program for the first year along with her best friend of the same age, I-keelah. It�s I-keela�s second year participating in Rookie League, but she�s even more excited this time around. �I want to get better at baseball and learn new things,� she said.�
Friends Layla and I-keelah share bright smiles.
Not only does Rookie League provide opportunities for youth participating as players, but the program also helps connect youth with employment and leadership opportunities. This year, 180 youth (ages 15+) were employed as coaches, mentors and counsellors for Rookie League.�
Marion, hired as a mentor for her first year in Rookie League, looks forward to what the program will bring. �I�m most excited about seeing the kids have fun and I hope to put a smile on their face every day,� she said.
Tatreeanna Campbell, Rookie League mentor, poses with Rookie Leaguer
Of all the important things to look forward to for the upcoming season, participants, mentors and Toronto Community Housing staff alike acknowledge the strong sense of community that Rookie League brings. � � �
�I want the kids to take away the love of baseball and feel the great sense of community,� said Toronto Community Housing Board Member Christian Buhagiar.�
�I see how much these kids come together in their communities. This program reaches areas that sometimes have tension and then all of a sudden the kids hit the baseball field and it becomes all about working together and being a team. Community engagement and community spirit is something that baseball brings naturally. It�s such a wonderful fit.�
Rookie League wraps up on Thursday, August 14 during a closing ceremony at the University of Toronto�s Scarborough Campus. �
With the summer ahead of them youth, mentors and the overall community look forward to an even bigger and better year of Rookie League.
For more information about participating in Rookie League call 416-981-6300, or e-mail email@example.com