Author: Christina M. Abt
Over the last few weeks, Buffalo has basked in the national media spotlight due to the return of Major League Baseball (MLB) to the Queen City for the first time in 105 years. However, the MLB powers that be recently turned up the intensity of that local spotlight, by designating Buffalo’s Willie Hutch Jones Educational & Sports Program (WHJESP) as a member of their Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) Program.
The primary mission of the MLB RBI Program is to increase participation and interest in baseball and softball among underserved youth, and promote greater inclusion of youth with diverse backgrounds into the mainstream of the game. They achieve their mission by creating new playing divisions that provide baseball and softball opportunities for children ages 5-12, which also serve as a feeder to the age 13-18 baseball and softball divisions. MLB Vice President of Baseball and Softball Development, David James, said the decision to add “Team Hutch” to their program was clear-cut.
“When considering the Willie Hutch Jones Educational and Sports Program we researched their mission and their results,” James stated. “What we found was that they are exactly the type of grass roots program we are looking for, to help us build a strong foundation for baseball and softball development in inner city locations across the United States. That’s why we are here making this announcement today. To afford these kinds of opportunities to underserved youth in the Buffalo Community.”
Under the leadership and guidance of Buffalo Native and former NBA/LA Lakers Player, Willie “Hutch” Jones, WHJESP has grown to a year-round program offering clinics, academic enhancement, foreign language studies, performance arts, competitive chess, soccer and science clubs, and workshops to enhance social and personal development. Jones notes that the MLB RBI Designation will enhance the reach of their program, as it begins its 37th summer season later this month.
“We have taken major strides over the last three decades in partnering with like-minded organizations such the Omega Mentoring Program, housed at the Wiley Pavilion under Executive Director Cedric Holloway,” Jones said. “Receiving this support for our softball and baseball programs from Major League Baseball will allow us to join with fellow WNY RBI Members, the Northtowns and East Aurora Boys and Girls Clubs, in reaching so many more kids. There are girls and boys in our city neighborhoods that will now have an opportunity for better lives because of this program and we are grateful to the MLB for designating us as an RBI affiliate.”
The RBI Program will be initiated in this summer’s WHJESP baseball clinics, and for the first time in girls softball clinics, all of which begin July 19th and run through August 20th. The clinics will take place at Johnny B. Wiley Amateur Sports Pavilion’s adjoining Masten Field, Canisius College’s Demske Field, and Riverside Park and Shoshone Park Fields. MLB Senior Coordinator for Baseball and Softball Development, Steve Smiegocki, is enthusiastic about adding “The Hutch Team” to the RBI Program.
“I look forward to coming back to Buffalo to continue to help develop programming in both softball and baseball that will impact the youth in the community. One of the beauties of RBI is that it has the flexibility to provide programming locally based on participant’s skill levels. It can be recreational, or it can be more formal league play. We want to make sure every kid has the opportunity to PLAY BALL.”
For more information about the Willie Hutch Jones Education and Sports Program: whjsc.org or call (716) 715-4980.
For more information about the MLB RBI Program: www.mlb.com/rbi
Lead image: Charles Wilson, Esq., Chair Willie Hutch Jones Educational & Sports Program, Steve Smiegocki, MLB Senior Coordinator for Baseball and Softball Development, Willie “Hutch” Jones, Founder and Director Willie Hutch Educational & Sports Program, David L. James, MLB Vice President, Baseball & Softball Development and Leroi Johnson, Chairman of Board Willie Hutch Jones.
and Leroi Johnson, Chairman of Board Willie Hutch Jones.
Christina M. Abt is an accomplished magazine writer, “Heart & Soul” newspaper columnist, WBFO radio commentator/broadcaster and best-selling author.