Saturday, June 21, 2014

GQ Magazine: Camden tries to keep kids focused with baseball

The coaches, from left: Danny Calo; Aaron Streater; Bryan Morton; Frankie Rosado; Julio Ruiz.

GQ EXPLORES HOW LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL HAS TRANSFORMED ONE OF THE POOREST, DEADLIEST CITIES IN AMERICA

…originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of GQ Magazine

Camden, New Jersey, is one of the poorest, deadliest cities in the United States. A once proud place now ravaged by addiction and poverty and guns and decay. It’s also a really unlikely place to start a Little League. But Little League here has not just survived, it’s thrived. GQ’s Kathy Dobie spends a season of heroism and survival with the coaches, players, moms, dreamers, retired gangbangers, and wised-up ex-cons who believe in baseball’s power to transform the hood. Excerpts from the story below:

On Bryan Morton, the founder and president of the North Camden Little League:
“When an addict tries to enter the park, Bryan blocks his path. ‘The park is for kids and their families today,’ Bryan says. The man looks flummoxed. ‘Where am I supposed to go?’ There’s absolutely no light in Bryan’s eyes when he says, ‘Not my problem.’ What incenses Bryan is that the children of North Camden are invisible to men like this. They must be, because how else could these junkies decide, again and again, that it’s okay to shoot up in front of 5-year-olds on slides, toddlers plucking at the grass?”

“Bryan’s philosophy in a nutshell: Don’t let circumstances dictate your behavior. Reverse that dynamic. Fill the parks with kids and families and eventually the junkies and the dealers will drift away. Pretend that you live in a safe place and maybe it will become one.”

“As soon as the dealers had sauntered out of the park (they didn’t want to look too accommodating) and Bryan set up his folding table, arranging the sign-up sheets in a neat pile, children began to stream in through the gates, on bicycles, scooters, running on sneakered feet. Word had gone out: The park was safe. It was like watching spring bloom in a minute.”

“One evening in May, the light lingering, Bryan had called me to proudly announce, ‘We covered the hood. Baseball is being played on every field in North Camden tonight.’ Dope City was alive with the sounds of bats cracking balls, runners tearing toward second, third, shouts!, bodies thudding, sliding across home plate.”

“Bryan says the toughest kids are the most vulnerable to the street, because those are the kids the dealers favor, the aggressive ones, the smart-asses, the kids with the dog who just can’t stand to lose.”

“’This is what small-town America values,’ Bryan says. ‘That’s quality family time. And you know what? I made that shit happen in the hood.’”

“Camden County has signed off on a $3 million transformation of Pyne Poynt—the most ambitious public project in North Camden since the building of Riverfront State Prison in 1985. The park will have brand-new baseball and soccer fields, a drainage system, basketball courts, restrooms, night lights, bleachers, and a concession stand, all of it due in no small part to the persistent presence of Bryan Morton’s North Camden Little League.”

On assistant coach Joey Polanco:
“He’s a true child and soldier of the street, having entered the life at 11 years old, having sold drugs, having been shot (twice), having lost his father to a heroin overdose, having spent many years in juvie and adult lockups (‘state college,’ he calls it).”

 Photo credit: Doug DuBois/GQ. 



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