In 1984, Willie Hutch Jones was dedicated to finding a way to combine his Professional NBA experience with the Los Angeles Lakers and his desire to advance the knowledge and self-esteem of children and young adults in his Buffalo hometown. He achieved that goal by creating the Willie Hutch Jones Educational & Sports Program (WHJESP,) providing youth of all racial and socio-economic backgrounds with strong positive influences and special training in sports and educational areas. Now, almost four decades and 10,000 kids later, Jones is launching his organization’s 38th summer season on Major League Baseball’s (MLB) Annual Jackie Robinson Day to commemorate, honor, and look forward.
“Seventy-five years ago, Jackie Robinson made his Major League Baseball (MLB) debut, advancing a legendary career that continues to inspire athletes of all ages and races,” Hutch said. “Before that debut, Robinson played baseball against the Buffalo Bisons in Offermann Stadium, as a member of the Montreal Royals. We are here today, at the Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion, to commemorate the iconic Jackie Robinson’s MLB Anniversary and honor his special connection to our city.
“We are also here to look forward, to the promise of future ‘Jackie Robinsons,’ by announcing the launch of the thirty-eighth summer season of the Willie Hutch Jones Education & Sports Program. In the four decades that this program has been operating we have nurtured more than 10,000 Buffalo youth in educational and sports clinics, providing them with needed skills for successful lives. I am excited to make this announcement today, on the anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first MLB game, and I am proud to officially dedicate the 2022 summer season in his honor.”
Joining with Jones were alumni of his program from the last four decades, as well as enrollees for the current year. Each spoke about their WHJESP experience including thirty-nine-year-old Buffalo Attorney Chris Hayes, who came to the program in 1990. Today he gives back to WHJESP as a volunteer speaker, in return for the support he received in his youth.
“I am who I am today in part due to the life lessons I learned in the Willie hutch Jones ESP Program,” Hayes said. “ The time I spent provided me with the examples of what it takes to succeed— that I had to put in my time in practicing and working on my skills. I also learned how important it is to have a good mental approach. That winning is not always about being the biggest or the strongest, and that has been transferable to my life. Willie and the coaches were all good men, and good people.”
The 2022 Willie Hutch Jones Sports and Education Program is now accepting registration for children ages 6-16 residing in Buffalo and Lackawanna for their FREE summer clinics in baseball, softball, basketball, soccer, tennis, volleyball, crew rowing, chess, steel drums, and dance. The clinics will run in July and August at Riverside Park (dance, chess, soccer), McMillan Courts at Delaware Park (tennis), Buffalo State College (basketball, volleyball), Johnnie B. Wiley/Masten Park (soccer), Canisius College Koessler Center (volleyball), West Side Rowing Club (crew rowing.) Lackawanna summer clinic locations for chess and steel drums to be announced.)
This year’s baseball and softball clinics will take place in partnership with the Major Baseball Leagues’ Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) Program at McCarthy Park, located at 304 E. Amherst St.
The park is dedicated to legendary baseball manager, Joe “Marse” McCarthy who lived most of his adult life in WNY.
These FREE Clinics will run July through August, depending on the activity. Pre-registration is required. All programs are free with enrollment on a first come first served basis. For more information or to register: whjsc.org/summer-programming
Lead image: (L-R) Nico Duncan, former WHJESP participant and current program coach, Chris Hayes-Attorney, former WHJESP participant and current volunteer speaker,Charles Wilson, WHJESP Board Member.