Providing direction for marginalized youth

A compass provides direction, but not directions.

I am a coach, and the players I am responsible for depend on me to provide direction. Providing direction for marginalized youth can be challenging. Thus the need for sports-based youth development (SBYD).

SBYD is a theory and practice model for direct youth services. SBYD’s counterpart is Travel Ball. A difference between the two comes down to who can pay to play.

At age 8 in 1984, I started playing organized baseball with the CYO Braves at Cascade Youth Organization (CYO), which is located in southwest Atlanta.

We had a really good team of athletic players. When I say athletic, I am defining players who have high levels of both physical and critical thinking abilities. Combined, we were able to execute and compete without having all of the fundamental habits.

While our coaches were good men, they were not former professional baseball players or professional coaches. My coaches consisted of Coach Emmett Johnson, the Chairman for the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education; Coach Joshua Butler, an art teacher at Benjamin Elijah Mays High School; and Gus Burns, a diligent working class family man.

I remember paying about $100 to play a three- to four-month season each year that extended through the summer.

We would sell world’s finest chocolates or $1 raffle tickets for a microwave, television or stereo system. These were hot commodities back in the day.

This was the way of life for Black and white boys in Georgia during that time. White boys didn’t have private professional baseball coaches back in the 80s when I was a kid. They didn’t have indoor batting facilities.

But things started to change in the early 90s, which caused the playing field to become unleveled. Baseball was becoming a country club sport for the haves, making it close to impossible for the have nots, which were Black boys like me from the inner city of Atlanta.

I believe the Travel ball was started in 1985 with the establishment of East Cobb Baseball by Guerry Baldwin. This was two years after his East Marietta National Little League of Marietta, Georgia defeated the Liquito Hernandez Little League of Barahona, Dominican Republic, in the championship game of the 37th Little League World Series.

Travel baseball needed to be created because Guerry had a team of winners from a community that wanted to keep winning on a national and global stage.

I cannot tell my success story of playing and coaching without East Cobb Baseball. I played at ECB in the 90s trekking from my inner city Atlanta home to to the suburbs. I also coached there in the early 2000s.

My wife, Kelli, and I are owners of Diamond Directors, a baseball development company that has been providing the blueprint of success for diamond sport athletes since 1998. Our clients pay us on the high end for results. We have been a part of the travel ball tsunami, which has been crushing recreation baseball.

In 2007, Kelli, and I established LEAD Center For Youth, where I serve as co-founder and Chief Visionary Officer. We are a SBYD organization. We use the sport of baseball to help Black boys from Atlanta Public Schools grades 3rd through 12th overcome what we call the “three curve balls” that threaten their success: crime, poverty and racism.

Since 2007, LEAD has invested more than $8 million and has served more than 5,000 middle and high school Black boys, proving that Black boys living in the inner city of Atlanta do want to play baseball and use it to become Major League Citizens.

If LEAD existed during the time that I played at ECB, I would have never played at ECB. LEAD is a methodology that allows us to serve both as a compass and a directional app that helps Black boys win on and off the baseball field in their own community.

For more information, visit L.E.A.D. Center for Youth today.

If you found this inspiring and thought-provoking, or if you have any questions, comments or concerns, add me on Discord and let’s go deeper.

C.J. Stewart has built a reputation as one of the leading professional hitting instructors in the country. He is a former professional baseball player in the Chicago Cubs organization and has also served as an associate scout for the Cincinnati Reds. As founder and CEO of Diamond Directors Player Development, C.J. has more than 22 years of player development experience and has built an impressive list of clients, including some of the top young prospects in baseball today. If your desire is to change your game for the better, C.J. Stewart has a proven system of development and a track record of success that can work for you.