It was a sizzling summer day at Centennial Park in Etobicoke, where about 1,200 youth gathered to kick-off the 2016 season of Rookie League on July 7.
Slathered in sunscreen and equipped with brand new swag – including t-shirts, hats, water bottles and backpacks courtesy of Jays Care Foundation – kids and coaches were feeling the heat, having fun and getting fired up about baseball.
"The kids said this was the best opening day. A lot of these kids have been here since they were six and now they are 12 years old. So they've seen how Rookie League has progressed," said Husein, a sports and camp coordinator with Toronto Community Housing.
Rookie League campers showing team spirit
This year marks the 28th year of the partnership between Toronto Community Housing and Jays Care Foundation in running the Rookie League summer program for kids aged 6 to 13. Throughout July and August, more than 1,200 campers from 43 neighbourhoods across the city will take part in fun, active and motivating day camp activities.
Not only do these campers learn about baseball, they’re also taught beneficial life skills grounded in teamwork, leadership and self-confidence. It’s not out of left field for these values to get passed on through the years. Many of the Rookie League coaches are former campers who are motivated to give back.
"When I grew up going to camp, I always loved talking about my experiences afterwards," said Will, a Rookie League coach. "I think it's important these campers go home and tell everyone, 'That was a great summer. That was a great camp.'"
Making friends on the field
The Rookie League program encourages this guidance by employing 150 young leaders as junior and senior coaches. The impact of mentoring younger generations helps everyone learn and cultivate a stronger sense of community. Call it a home team advantage.
"Seeing the kids and staff rise to the occasion today - while dripping in sweat and participating in fun activities - was really inspiring," said Jules, the director of programs for Jays Care Foundation.
Campers focused on having fun
To celebrate opening day, campers began the morning with fun challenges where they earned points for speed, positive attitudes, cooperation and creativity.
After completing these activities, everyone was hungry for a healthy barbecue lunch and fueled up for a dynamic afternoon on the baseball diamond. The crowd was energized by pep talks from Toronto Community Housing President and CEO Greg Spearn, Jays Care Foundation’s Executive Director Robert Witchel, and legendary Blue Jays alumnus and play-by-play announcer for Rogers Sportsnet, Buck Martinez. Before heading home, each camper also got to select a few free children’s books, provided by First Book Canada.
Opening day emcee, Robert Witchel (Jays Care Foundation Executive Director), Greg Spearn (Toronto Community Housing President and CEO), and Buck Martinez (Blue Jays alumnus, play-by-play announcer Rogers Sportsnet)
If the energy, enthusiasm and effort seen at opening day is any indication, the 2016 season of Rookie League is set to hit it out of the park.
Young campers ready for the big leagues
Through our Active Living programs like Rookie League, Toronto Community Housing works with partners to help youth living in our communities develop the skills and confidence they need to reach their potential.
For more information on our Active Living programs, including Rookie League,
see the Children and youth page on our website.