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Jacksonville councilman reaches out to youth with baseball camp

Former pro athletes share love of sports with youth

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JACKSONVILLE, Fl. – Jacksonville City Councilman Terrance Freeman hosted a free baseball camp over the weekend at Beverly Hills Park.

The event, sponsored by Sherwood Community Network, was the first of its kind for Freeman, who was appointed interim councilman six months ago for District 10.

The goal of the Diamond in the Rough baseball camp is to get more African-Americans interested in baseball and provide an outlet for children on the city's Northside, said coordinator LaShun Hightower.

"Baseball is a thinking man's game," Hightower said. "It teaches discipline, and can help in the schools to help with the discipline and behavioral problems. ... This can help them learn to make good choices and gives them an opportunity to play."

Hightower knew of Freeman's love for baseball and said the councilman came to mind immediately when he was putting the camp together. Hightower was the baseball coach at Eagle's View Academy at the same time Freeman was principal there. 

The baseball camp was free for children ages 5 to 18. Each child who participated received a free bat and glove. More than 100 youth registered for the one-day camp, where local athletes volunteered to teach defensive drills, throwing and catching techniques.

Florida State College and Edward Waters College brought representatives of their baseball programs to volunteer. The Boys & Girls Club donated the bats and gloves, while volunteers, parents and community leaders provided refreshments.

Hightower said his goal is to create a youth baseball league on the Northside. "I played over at Emmett Reed all my life. When baseball left the neighborhood, crime came in," he said.

Freeman said baseball changed his life, too. He spent more than five years playing Minor League Baseball for the Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Oakland Athletics organizations, after being drafted in the early '90s.

"It also helped me acquire an education and a profession," Freeman said. "So I want to see these kids have the same opportunities it afforded me -- to travel the world, travel the country and meet a lot of good people along the way."

There were other living legends of Jacksonville who volunteered. Among them was Coach Dale Cisco, a former athlete in the Negro League who played for the Jacksonville Redcaps. He currently coaches baseball at Eagle's View Academy. The founder of the JP Smalls foundation, Nathaniel "Coach" Farley, was there and talked about his years of coaching at Stanton High school and Jacksonville University. 

Hightower's 30 years of coaching and athletic experience taught the youth about the benefits sports can have on their lives. "I went to EWC to play baseball, but due to an injury was never able to make it all the way. I want the kids to go further than I did," he said.

The next step for Freeman and Hightower is to get more donations so that they can offer baseball programs and after-school sports for children on the northside all year long. Students from Ribault High School, Raines High School, Rutledge Pearson, Paxon and Martin Luther King were a part of the first outreach efforts.

The camp was made possible by donations and sponsorships, but more donations will be needed for the children's uniforms, equipment and refreshments. Hightower feels optimistic because the facilities are available and the park is in good condition.

In the weeks ahead, Hightower will be hosting clinics for volunteers who want to coach baseball. They will be trained how to coach and interact with he children. After that, all they will need is more donors to start the Northside baseball league and eventually get the children playing competitively.

"I got a dream to take the kids to Cooperstown baseball classic. We want to see some of our kids from the Northside slide down the hill," said Hightower.

You can donate to a Diamond in the Rough baseball camp by contacting LaShun Hightower at 904-514-7238 or atopshirt@gmail.com.