Major League Baseball and the City of New Orleans today officially announced a $5.3 million project to build a future MLB Urban Youth Academy at Wesley Barrow Stadium in Pontchartrain Park in New Orleans. The New Orleans MLB Urban Youth Academy will operate in partnership with the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, providing free, year-round baseball and softball instruction and additional educational programming for more than 1,500 underserved youth throughout southern Louisiana.
Major League Baseball and the City of New Orleans conducted a ceremonial groundbreaking for the project at Wesley Barrow Stadium with a group that included Texas Rangers Manager and New Orleans native Ron Washington, MLB Executive Vice President of Baseball Development Jimmie Lee Solomon, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, former MLB Outfielder and current broadcaster for the New Orleans Zephyrs Ron Swoboda, New Orleans City Council Members Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson, Arnie Fielkow, and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, and other local and state representatives in attendance.
"New Orleans is a wonderful city with a strong, vibrant community, and we are very pleased to bring an MLB Urban Youth Academy here to make a positive impact on young men and women," said Jimmie Lee Solomon, Executive Vice President, Baseball Development, Major League Baseball. "They will be able to develop their baseball and softball skills year-round, while having the unique opportunity to participate in a diverse education program in a new, state-of-the-art facility. I would like to thank Mayor Landrieu and the City of New Orleans for making such a significant commitment to their community through baseball and softball."
"I have said time and again that the best tool in improving our economy and reducing crime is by investing in meaningful activities for our youth," said Mayor Mitch Landrieu. "There is no better partner than Major League Baseball to bring high quality programming to the kids of New Orleans. This $5.3 million renovation of Wesley Barrow Stadium — one of our 100 Committed Projects — along with the baseball and softball instruction Major League Baseball will provide our youth will help anchor our redevelopment efforts in Pontchartrain Park."
The New Orleans MLB Urban Youth Academy will feature three fields (baseball, softball, tee ball), complete with scoreboards, seating, dugouts and lights. The complex will feature four batting cages, an indoor facility, pitching mounds and other professional-caliber training facilities.
"This groundbreaking is the start of something truly wonderful for our community," said District D Councilmember Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, whose district encompasses the historic Pontchartrain Park neighborhood. "The Urban Youth Academy at Wesley Barrow Stadium will have a lasting impact on the youth for years to come. On behalf of the residents, I thank Major League Baseball for their support and dedication to Gentilly and the surrounding areas."
"Today's groundbreaking is more than a ceremonial turning over of dirt at Wesley Barrow stadium. As we approach the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, this milestone signifies New Orleans' continued redevelopment, especially in those areas hardest hit. I can think of no more appropriate place to spend FEMA recovery dollars than the redevelopment of a recreation facility for the city's greatest asset, our youth," said City Council Vice-President Arnie Fielkow, a longtime advocate of the project. "I would like to thank Major League Baseball for being such a great partner in our revitalization process. Through the creation of the New Orleans Urban Youth Academy, MLB will help elevate our city's youth recreation program to the highest standards in the country."
"This is an exciting event, and it symbolizes much more than a groundbreaking," said City Council President Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson. "This is history being rewritten. The MLB Urban Youth Academy is reminiscent of our original NORD program for baseball, which was led by the great Dr. Louis "Dutch" Legett. A native New Orleanian, Dr. Legett was a Major League Baseball player who volunteered his time and passion to bring baseball to the City's youth back in the 1940's. Now, our youth will once again have quality baseball and softball outreach programming from this partnership between the City and MLB."
The New Orleans MLB Urban Youth Academy will be modeled after the first MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton, California. Opening its doors in 2006, the Urban Youth Academy in Compton has given talented young players in underserved areas the chance to play organized baseball, with some 115 student-athletes selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft since its inception. In total, 60 student-athletes have signed professional contracts and more than 200 Academy student-athletes have gone on to participate in collegiate baseball and softball programs.
As part of the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Initiative, MLB Urban Youth Academies provide free, year-round baseball and softball instruction, as well as education programs to young people in urban communities. Major League Baseball currently operates Urban Youth Academies in Compton, California; Houston, Texas; and Gurabo, Puerto Rico. Additionally, two other Academies have been announced for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Hialeah, Florida. For more information, go to mlb.com/urbanyouthacademy.
Vincent Sylvain is publisher of The New Orleans Agenda.com, the leading local alternative for information on News, Arts, Culture & Entertainment in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast Region.
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