Members of the L.E.A.D. 2010 Middle School Baseball Development League from Sylvan Hills Middle SchoolBy Roshani Chokshi

In an effort to foster positive futures for inner city youth, L.E.A.D., (Launch. Expose. Advise. Direct.) has introduced a middle school baseball development league at Perkerson Park in Southwest Atlanta.

“What we wanted to focus on was creating a pipeline,” said C.J. Stewart, former Chicago Cubs outfielder and co-founder of L.E.A.D. “Right now there is a very low number of African-Americans in baseball, we want to give them the opportunity to be competitive in college-playing. We felt like if we had a presence in the school system, we’re bringing these efforts into reality.”

Stewart and wife Kelli co-founded L.E.A.D. in 2007 as the nation’s first instructional play program for inner city adolescents. The program utilizes baseball to reshape communities through the four pillars: academics, athletics, civic engagement and exposure.

The organization also aims to affect the number of inner city teens who competitively play baseball while preparing them to contend for college baseball scholarships.

“One of the reasons why baseball is struggling is because of my generation,” Stewart said. “There’s a huge disconnect mainly because we didn’t take the time to hear stories of the past. It’s our responsibility to put them into action.”

To date, 100 percent of L.E.A.D.’s student athletes have gone on to college, with 83 percent receiving athletic scholarships.

“This is a testament to good, solid, consistent programming,” Kelli Stewart said, nothing that L.E.A.D. also instills a strong sense of academic involvement. “We could make you the best athlete, but if you don’t have the academics, it’s all for naught.”

The league is in partnership with Jr. Braves, Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) Baseball and FCA Inner City. Currently, four pilot schools are involved in the program, B.E.S.T. Academy, Kennedy, Sylvan Hills and Parks middle schools.

Saturday, July 17, will be “L.E.A.D. Night” at the Braves game at Turner Field. By purchasing Braves tickets from the L.E.A.D. website, money goes back to support the program. Visit www.lead2legacy.org for more information.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.