WASHINGTON, DC(WUSA9) - When you think about the sport of baseball, black kids are traditionally not that involved in it. Only 7.7 percent of the MLB are black players, but a Brookland native and the Washington Nationals are trying to change that at the youth level.
Chris Henderson, who grew up in Brookland, D.C. is in his fourth-year as a Nationals Youth Baseball Academy coach as the Nats work to develop youth through the sports of baseball and softball.
The academy, based in Southeast, D.C. helps expose at-risk kids from Wards 7 and 8 to the game of baseball and softball during the academic year and last year they started a summer league academy.
"Growing up in D.C. and being an inner city kid sort of coming back, after I graduated college(Hampton) and even when I was in college, I was trying to make a big impact," he said. "It's been sort of motivating to me."
Henderson and the other coaches in the academy work with six to 12 year olds to help build character and teamwork skills. During the summer, the youth practice and play in games once a week and the program is free of charge. The Nationals and sponsors take care of everything.
For Henderson, a former high school baseball player at School Without Walls, giving these kids support is essential.
" I was raised by a single mom with that do it all attitude and its sort of rubbed off on me as thought I know I can't slack off," he commented. "My father wasn't around from the jump. I know I cant slack off with these kids especially you know. Whatever could be going on in their neighborhood or even at home, they come here and it's almost like a refuge for them. They come here for a safe place and fun environment."
Henderson said the biggest difference with his kids from when they started the academy is their maturity level and the grasp of the game. Additionally, not only do the kids enjoy baseball and softball training during the summer but they receive academic support, cooking lessons, and more.
Now even though Henderson's father never was there for him, the 22-year-old loves being a positive male figure for the youth.
"Being there for them, they get to see another male role model male and all the other coaches that are here," he said. "It does play a big difference they see it makes a difference. I didn't have it I was blessed to maneuver without it.
In just a few years, Henderson and the Nationals changed how baseball is viewed around the community.
"The role that this academy plays, like bringing baseball back to the front of the city, it's been something to marvel at," Henderson said with a big smile. "It's not just from the kids--parents are like 'man I'm really starting to watch Nationals games because of my kids'. It's something big happening here."
The Nationals have reached hundreds of kids through their program so far and look to make it 1500 youth by 2021. To help support this program, you can head over to Academy's website at http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/was/youth-baseball-academy/
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