Rather than run afoul, youths get into the game

August 06, 1993|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

For Michael, a junior high school dropout, it was "a once-in-a-lifetime" experience. There he was, sitting in Chase Bank of Maryland's sky box at Oriole Park, watching the Orioles play the Milwaukee Brewers last night.

"I've never had the chance to come to a game and just watch it," said Michael, whose only previous visits were to help his grandmother operate a concessions stand for the benefit of her church, the United House of Prayer.

Michael, 17, was one of eight boys aged 14 to 17 who attended the game under the auspices of the Chesapeake Center, which is designed to help kids in trouble and alleviate the school dropout problem.

Most have had brushes with the law and were referred to the center by a juvenile counselor. Ivan Leshinsky, executive director of the Chesapeake Foundation for Human Development, said the Department of Juvenile Services' policy is to not reveal the youngsters' last names.

"Some have been charged with things ranging from drug and alcohol offenses to auto theft," he said.

The boys weren't at the game purely to enjoy it. They were given a 10-question written test, the answers to which were on the scoreboard. Their reading skills are weak, and they struggle to comprehend.

A few of the questions: Who bats fifth for the Orioles? How many times do you see the word "Orioles" on the center-field scoreboard? What number is David Segui in the batting order? Who is Detroit playing tonight?

"The idea is to get them to read the scoreboard," Leshinsky said.

Less than an hour before game time, Orioles bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks appeared in the sky box to talk to the boys and sign autographs.

"It's easy to get into bad habits and tough to get into good ones," Hendricks told them. "You just have to minimize your mistakes."

Michael dropped out of Booker T. Washington Middle School after eighth grade. The next three or four years, he was in and out of trouble.

"I talked to my probation officer about getting back in public school so I could play basketball," said Michael, who is 6 feet 7. "She told me about the Chesapeake Center."

The center doesn't have a basketball team, but it does have year-round remedial academics. This fall Michael hopes to earn his high school equivalency diploma.

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