Just when you thought inner city youth baseball was dead and buried — along came the Taney Dragons. Just when you thought baseball for inner city African American youth was dead and buried — along came Jackie Robinson West from Chicago.
And just when you thought youth soccer was covering over youth baseball like Penn State turfgrass from Happy Valley — because baseball is too slow, too long, and too boring — along came the World Series at Williamsport.
But the Taney team wasn't just a celebration for baseball, it was a celebration of kids. Good kids, smart kids, unselfish kids — kids who seem attitude-less from the core.
And best yet, kids from the inner city who don't sell drugs, beat up teachers, set hall-locker fires, and skip school like the classrooms are painted with the Ebola virus.
The Taney team: twelve kids from a mixture of Philadelphia inner city private and public schools. All good schools. Twelve kids who have parents and teachers who care, and that's the way it should be. But — and a very big but — it's not always that way.
I get around this city every day, underground and above ground, and I go through the 'hoods. I see lots of poverty; families struggling to make ends meet, parents working two-three jobs; and I see school kids on the streets and in stores that should be in a classroom.
I see kids with attitudes so thick you'd think it was painted on them. And I read the newspapers— not so much newspapers anymore, more like crime almanacs — shootings, murder, and assaults on police officers.
Every day, 3-5 murders a night, more on the weekends. Day after day after day.
In the Philly inner city public schools, absenteeism is as high as the drop-out rate, which runs about 50 percent.
Absent students don't read at grade level, can't do algebra and trigonometry, let alone add, subtract and multiply; have low self-esteem, and most likely will not be employable. Many of them — when they do come to school — disrupt the teaching so much even the good kids can't get an education.
And the good kids? They flee. Some stay at the very best public schools in the city such as Penn Alexander or the Meredith School, or Masterman, a city magnet school; while others flee to private, Catholic, and charter schools, all around the city.
What's left in the inner city public schools isn't pretty. State test schools are way below grade level; experienced teachers are afraid at school and many lock their classroom doors.
Inexperienced teachers come and go like money the school district never seems to have. It either doesn't get enough, or it spends what it gets foolishly. Perhaps a little of both.
As a result, poor kids don't get an education. Poor kids don't get jobs and become valuable members of the community. And poor kids commit crimes and end up dead or incarcerated.
It was good to see those Taney kids smiling and happy — the way kids ought to be.
White kids with their arms around black kids. A girl — who could rear back and whip a fastball nearly as hard as Jamie Moyer — who commanded the respect of her teammates, just as she did the strike zone.
Kids who listen to and respect their coaches, respect each other. Kids who competed, gave their best — won, then lost — and cried shamelessly. Some of us cried with them.
Taney to me wasn't just about baseball. It was about kids that any parent — any human being — would be proud of.
We need to celebrate that much more often.
(The Taney Dragons, from the Southwest section of Philadelphia, the first Philadelphia Little League team to ever reach the Little League World Series, was defeated 6-5 by Jackie Robinson West, one game away from the U.S. championship game. The team's star pitcher, 13 year-old Mo'ne Davis, was the youngest person ever to make the cover of Sport Illustrated. Philadelphia celebrated the Taney Dragons with a Broad Street parade from City Hall to Citizens Bank Park. The Dragons were then called onto the field at the Phillies -Washington game Wednesday evening by Drexel's Dan Baker.)