'Favorite Pastime' Becomes After-School Program

'Favorite Pastime' Becomes After-School Program

Diamond Dream Foundation kicks off after-school baseball and softball for middle schools.

Liberty Middle School brought its summer camp to a close and kicked off its upcoming after-school baseball and softball program with a single event Friday morning, Aug. 10.

FORTY-SEVEN middle-school students from around western Fairfax County learned baseball techniques from former college and minor league baseball players and one retired Major League pitcher at a baseball clinic at the school. Most of the instructors were members of the Diamond Dream Foundation, a Fairfax County-based organization that supports youth baseball and softball programs.

“We’ve got some kids out here who never played baseball before,” said Robert Duff, the foundation’s CEO. He noted that all of the clinic’s instructors still enjoy playing baseball. “That’s what we want to teach these kids — you find something you like as a kid, and you keep it with you.”

Last year, the county introduced after-school programs to all of its middle schools, but baseball and softball were not part of the regimen. That will change this year, thanks to the $50,000 donation the Diamond Dream Foundation made to the county’s Department of Community and Recreation Services (CRS).

Jesse Ellis, supervisor of community use for CRS’ Athletic Services Division, said the program will likely begin at four schools this year, including Liberty Middle School in Clifton, and expand from there. The foundation had contacted CRS to find out whether the two organizations could collaborate on a project, and CRS mentioned the new after-school program for middle schools, said Ellis.

“That’s the exact target the Diamond Dream Foundation had,” Duff said of the middle-school age range, noting that it is between the ages of 13 and 15 that the most youths, no longer eligible for Little League, stop playing the sport.

“It was awesome that they stepped up to the plate in terms of funding this initiative,” said Evan Braff, CRS’s division supervisor for Youth Services, noting that keeping young students busy and exposing them to sports is a way of preventing them from getting into trouble. “Studies have shown that when you make after-school programming a community effort, the kids are more likely to grow up to be productive citizens,” said Braff.

Members of the Diamond Dream Foundation will also continue to appear at after-school baseball and softball programs throughout the year.

“I THINK it’s nice that they come out and help people and teach them new things and techniques,” said Richard Walker, a rising eighth-grader at Rocky Run Middle School. Walker said he had attended Liberty’s summer camp, which drew from surrounding schools, and was considering participating in after-school baseball.

Morgan Randle, a rising eighth-grader at Liberty, had also attended the school’s summer camp and said she planned to play softball after school this year. She described the day’s baseball clinic as “off the chain.”

In addition to baseball instruction, each participant in the clinic received a baseball, a baseball glove, a hat and a T-shirt. Four tickets for Diamond Club seats at a baseball game and a baseball autographed by famed ballplayer Ken Griffey Jr. were given to the winners of a batting contest.

“What’s not to like about it?” asked Ken Dixon, former pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles, after signing several hats and baseballs for children and adult volunteers alike. “The kids are at an age when a thing like this can change them.” Dixon said he wanted to let children know they can have fun “without being thugs and hustlers.”

Also in attendance was John Barrett, a 19-year-old Edison High School graduate who was recently recruited by the Washington Nationals, although he said he planned to play a year of college baseball before being drafted. “I thought it was a lot of fun,” Barrett said of the event. “I liked seeing how the kids, at the beginning, they were acting like they didn’t really want to learn baseball, and then they started getting into it.”