Respect for the Past Considering the Future

NASHVILLE – It is fitting that the Nashville Stars, a group of players aged 10 and under, are named in honor of the former Negro League team that played at Music City in the 1930s, ’40s, and’ 50s. From the violent episodes that run to all Black coach coaching and the speaker talking about a mix of hip-hop and R&B from bleachers, the Stars have the energy and excitement that led Black Black to be incorporated into what is commonly known as sports. to borrow. The team also serves as a strong opposition to the image of American youth baseball.

For the kids on the team, most of whom are Black, baseball is not the time to ban them until the football season begins, or free events sponsored by community organizations that may or may not receive financial support from the Major League. Baseball. For these kids, baseball is a passion and a goal.

As Major League baseball and the entire sports team celebrate the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers, the focus is on the past, looking at what Robinson did with his pioneer – and, in the end, what he did not. . Robinson’s desire to turn the other cheek and his ability to win in the face of obvious discrimination may have made him an icon and a hero, but it did not make the game less hateful of black people everywhere.

Today, the number of black players in the major leagues has declined sharply since the 1950’s, when some teams have not yet taken on black players, and the number of young black players in the sport has not increased significantly. According to a report from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, only 11.1 percent of black children played baseball in 2018 – a number that affects the number of athletes who are highly competitive.

This non-participation is often due to the high cost of youth baseball and the lack of sports facilities for pregnant black children. But the Stars are not a group of “in-city kids,” and most of the Black parents in the program have no problem buying $ 300 bats and paying extra tuition fees. Here, their children find protection from some of the challenges that play the youth game, and thanks to the leadership of black men who are committed to pushing Robinson’s legacy forward, they are able to play their favorite games without compromise.

If you ask Ro Coleman Jr. and DJ Merriwether, who teaches Star and Xavier Turner, should not have been a real band.

They both grew up with the sport – Coleman in Chicago and Merriwether in Nashville – and although they took different paths after high school, they knew they would eventually find themselves in the community, instilling a love of baseball in their hearts and minds. a new generation of black children. They both believe they can be very helpful in educating children in depth and sending them to play other coaches.

Then tragedy and need arose.

After playing in Kentucky Wesleyan and then at Crichton College in Memphis, Merriwether returned to Nashville and, in 2016, started Beyond the Diamond. The development program provided baseball training for teens with the goal of helping children to earn a living from the sport through college education or shooting at pro games.

“Everything for me does not mean that every kid is going to make a big league,” Merriwether said. “It’s about using baseball to create other kids’ strategies, just like they did for themselves. Ability to connect, meet different people from different backgrounds. Sitting at tables I never thought I could be. That’s what baseball did for me. ”

Later, after a full request from parents who were dissatisfied with other programs in the city, they decided to form a single group. Doing everything privately was difficult, but Merriwether went on to say, believing that if he continued to “plant seeds and try to build a ball around the city, eventually things would work out.”

The turning point came in 2019, when he was introduced to Coleman by Jarrod Parker, a former major league player who was named Ninth by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007. plowing.

Coleman, a well-known figure at Chicago’s Simeon High School, won the national championship with Vanderbilt in 2014 before being signed by the Detroit Tigers at the end of his senior year. He says now that young children were pulling, and with a degree in hand and no guarantee of going to the big leagues, Coleman decided to hang up his sleeves and head back to Nashville to run his lifelong business. Like Merriwether, he recognized the potential of baseball to have a profound effect on the lives of black children.

“Growing up, my friends and I wanted to be able to change, and we did not realize at a young age that we would have the consequences that we do now,” Coleman said. “We just wanted to see more Blacks play the game at a higher level.”

Parker sold out entirely on Coleman’s vision, and Merriwether became a rare part of the film that allowed Coleman and Parker to reach a wider audience. And in 2020 – after partnering with Music Baseball, an organization working to bring MLB development team called Stars to Nashville – the Nashville Stars youth program was born.

“Seeing a Black man in Nashville try to give a chance at a baseball game for African American and a few other children was a special thing to see,” Coleman told Merriwether. “It’s the same passion that Jarrod and I had for the sale of children. He’s a real person; we vibed; and it just came out.”

The Stars started with a team of 15 and under (15U) players in 2020, and after a successful first season (former players volunteered at Vanderbilt, Stanford, and other smaller schools), Coleman and staff decided to field teams at 13U and 10U rates by the end of summer 2021.

The idea of ​​forming a 10U team was appropriate for Brandon Hill, who had recently relocated his family – including his 10-year-old son Brendon – from Hoover, Ala., To Nashville. Hill says Brendon developed a strong love for baseball, and since childhood, Hill has always been looking for Black-run teams.

“I didn’t want him to be treated differently,” Hill said. “I did not want to be in a group of good boys, or be in a place where the teacher said, ‘He should play there, but he can’t because my friend’s son wants to play there. And on the weekends we go out for a drink.'”

Although experts often discuss the financial implications of youth baseball, these parents are aware that many of the factors that affect the game at the professional level — isolation from Black players affect teams that few, if any, appear to be, are forced to change. roles that are linked to black players such as the middle court, and unspoken rules and political systems that annoy even regular athletes – they also infiltrate youth sports. In addition to the financial crisis, these are challenges that prevent many black children from playing the game.

Before joining Merriwether’s Beyond the Diamond and eventually joining the Stars, Christopher Gordon’s son, Austin, played a well-known white program in the southern part of Nashville. Although the team had a good reputation, Gordon says Austin was pushed out because his teammates are often the children of coaches.

“For me, as his father, I had to make the decision that he should be in a program that would bring him money,” Gordon said. “If he’s an outside player, he’s a player. But I want that to be fair; a good playing part.”

Merriwether transferred Austin to a second location, and is now switching between barrels and other central locations. Gordon says he is having a lot of fun again – not because he is playing in a different place.

The total cost of the program is about $ 2,400 a year, Coleman said, or comparing it to most competing teams. The foundations of the Empowerment Pursuit work with parents to make as much money as possible.

According to parent after parent, Black or white, the emphasis on having fun while remaining competitive distinguishes Nashville Stars from other programs in the area. “You move from having parents who work as a second job to having teachers who work as a profession, and the amount of money and the quality of teaching goes a long way,” said Kristen Menke, Max Goetz’s mother.

Gordon agrees. He said: “It is wonderful to have such teachers, and to give children such games, which, of course, I did not know when I was growing up.

Sometimes, however, that manifestation is not good. During a race in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., A small town on the Alabama border, Star met a group of anti-Algerian parents.

“I think he was surprised to lose to the Black team, and he didn’t do well,” said Menke, a white man. “They felt like the actors were calling us things when the real thing was, things are called the same.”

Although Merriwether said the teachers did not hear anything on the court, the parents said they heard the parents from the anti-narcissist team using verbal and verbal abuse.

It was a shock to Menke, who said he had never been through this but, afterwards, was more convinced than ever that he had made the right decision to get his son into the Stars.

At the same time, Merriwether’s past experiences helped him lead the group and focus more on “directing controls.”

“His father was there, saying, ‘We did this all the time the DJ was growing up, that things like that have been bothering Black baseball,'” Menke said. “And I think, ‘If our goal is to change the culture of football, then we can no longer accept it.’

“There is a group within the group, but I also want the group to be a reflection of the community.”

Andrea Williams is a soloist in Nashville and co-author of “Baseball’s Leading Lady: Effa Manley and the Rise and Fall of the Negro Leagues.. ”

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