It all started in fall 2008, the time for my family and me to choose a new baseball organization. Now a sophomore at Benjamin Elijah Mays High School, I was looking for a program that could help me gain exposure to play baseball on the next level. My high school counselor, Andrew Ragland, saw my potential on the baseball field and gave me a flyer for tryouts for an organization called L.E.A.D.
At first thought, I told my mom they play at Perkerson Park—they can’t be any good. Having interest in organizations around Atlanta such as the Georgia Royals, MGBA (Marquis Grissom Baseball Association) and the Atlanta Blue Jays, I didn’t think L.E.A.D. would have much to offer. My focus was to find the best team, with the best players, and most popular brand. This way, I’d be able to travel, win games and be seen all over the country.
Upon arriving at Perkerson Park I was surprised to see so many people come out for tryouts. There was even lots of baseball gear and equipment available to the program that I could see with reps from Mizuno on site at the tryouts. My opinions had changed and interest had grew at first sight.
After completing the tryout process, my mom and I had a conversation with C.J. Stewart, the co-founder and CEO of L.E.A.D., Inc. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct). The first question he asked me was, “How are your grades?” My mom was sold. No other coach or organization was concerned with what I did off the field, but his first concern showed he cared and would not only help me on the field, but off the field, in the game of life, too. Our relationship took off from there, as I chose to join L.E.A.D., an unpopular choice at the time being the only Mays Raider to join the program. I found this experience more valuable in all of the losses that we took, not because we weren’t good players, but Coach C.J. and L.E.A.D. taught us how to see through the scoreboard and understand the real importance of travel ball.
The summer of 2011 had come around and it was time to make a decision on college. Still in the Ambassador program, I had become a Division I baseball prospect, being placed in front of colleges as well as professional scouts at every game and showcase. It was one day in particular I’ll never forget. It happened to be at Perkerson Park. The place I had doubts about when I first joinedg was now giving me the stage to perform on.
Before taking the field for the game that day, Coach C.J. pulled me to the side and basically challenged me to secure this Division I baseball scholarship to Grambling State University. The decision to stay and trust the process with L.E.A.D. had ultimately paid off. I can remember only winning about three to four games, but that was minor in comparison to winning the ultimate prize. I stayed with L.E.A.D. for the culture set in place—one that saw the big picture and was bigger than any game we could win.
Upon graduating from Grambling State University in 2017, I returned to Atlanta with my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, along with five great years on the baseball field. I began working with L.E.A.D. as the programs manager and Ambassadors head coach shortly after. Now approaching two years in this position, I have gained the experience and built a resume I need for the professional world. I have also embraced my passions for giving back to the community, leading and teaching, all while staying close to the game with coaching. These passions, in fact, are ones I’ll be looking to expand upon in my next job after moving on from L.E.A.D.
Head coach of the Ambassadors puts me in charge of three teams. We place Ambassadors on either the practice, play or performance team. The practice team does not play in any games. Once an Ambassador can show he knows how to practice, we will promote him to the “play” team. The process is similar to the minor league to major league progressions. Once an Ambassador is on the “play” team, his focus is to become consistent enough for a promotion to the performance team. The performance team is where you actually get to play for me, where my focus is winning games and scholarships.
I’m often asked after games—“Where are you guys from?”—due to the fact they are surprised that we compete or either won the game. The more surprising comments when I let people know all of my guys are from the Atlanta Public Schools system. I am not supposed to compete, let alone win games with this group. Each game I focus on pitchers throwing strikes, being solid on defense having timely hitting. If we do those three things well, we can compete with anyone.
Leading the Ambassadors did not start once I took this position. The journey started years ago watching and learning how to lead. When I matriculated through the program, there was no Desmond Stegall, C.J. and Kelli Stewart to lead us by themselves. Coach Kelli has taught me the importance of communication, holding people accountable and to sticking to my core values and beliefs.
|Desmond Stegall leading the Ambassadors during the 2019 Safe at Home Game. Photo by iSmooth.
I also wondered for years how Coach C.J. managed to do all the things he had going on with excellence. He has taught me how to multi-task, how to prepare and how to delegate, because most things in fact cannot be done alone. I learn from them both each and every day. I use those skills and lessons as best I can when pouring into all the young men L.E.A.D. serves. Our mission is to empower an at risk generation to lead and transform their city. Coach C.J. and Coach Kelli provide Ambassadors this opportunity to do so. You are guaranteed professional coaching, lifelong connections and a network beneficial to your professional desires.
Preparation for the Ambassador program starts in our Middle School Character Development League. These participants are our Junior Ambassadors, who go through a 10-week process, where I am using a leadership method called “Habitudes,” founded by Dr. Tim Elmore. This core value training focuses on teaching Junior Ambassadors everything they need before they learn how to practice, play and perform.
As I close, I want to lend some words of advice to my successor on how to keep winning. You must understand that you are not only leading the Ambassadors, but serving them as well. Be knowledgeable of what each Ambassador can and cannot do. On the field, value each opportunity to get better as a team. Communication can go a long way in your coaching and the Ambassadors performance. You cannot stress it enough in every aspect of the game.
LEAD and they will follow.
Desmond Stegall is the L.E.A.D. Ambassadors Head Coach.