Davis takes on the BEST Perseverance: At a luncheon for 25 scholarship winners, the Orioles outfielder, who has battled cancer and returned to play baseball, tells the inner-city students to never give up.

July 11, 1998|By Paula Lavigne | Paula Lavigne,SUN STAFF

Thirteen-year-old Joel Chambers tossed a few batting pointers at Orioles outfielder Eric Davis yesterday.

"I think your leg kick is too high ," Joel advised. "That's why you get jammed like you did last night."

Davis took it all in stride. After all, he was giving an award to Joel for being intelligent.

Joel was one of 25 youths Davis honored at a luncheon provided by the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel yesterday for the awarding of scholarships through the Baltimore Educational Scholarship Trust.

The trust provides money to help private schools offer scholarships to African-American students from low- and middle-income city families, said Barbara Tesner, BEST's director of development. She said most of the students, all of whom will attend area private schools this fall, performed academically above their grade levels.

The program receives its funding from private donations, corporations, foundations and individuals. The average scholarship is $8,500, and the program has 460 recipients enrolled in private schools.

Davis made the BEST program a beneficiary of his "Champions for Children" philanthropy in January and was honorary chairman of the BESTFEST '98 fund-raising event in May.

When the outfielder underwent surgery for colon cancer in June 1997, it wasn't clear if he would be back for another season. He said his return to the field after battling the disease should inspire children. "All you've got to do is see me," he said. "I'm here I didn't quit. I didn't give up."

Davis, who grew up in South Central Los Angeles, said he could identify with the children's struggle in the inner city. "They deserve an opportunity," Davis said. "If I don't give them an opportunity, who will?"

Davis also said he would donate to BEST one-third of the proceeds of an August fund-raiser at the ESPN Zone for the Eric Davis Foundation.

Adrienne Boone, 13, received a BEST scholarship three years ago to attend St. Paul's School for Girls. "My parents really don't make that much money to send me to St. Paul's," she said. Adrienne presented Davis with a copy of a thank-you letter she wrote to BEST -- citing her achievements on the honor roll and dean's list -- and she sat at the table with Davis, his wife, Sherrie, and children Erica, 11, and Sacha, 7.

Several youths wore orange jackets or Orioles jerseys to the luncheon -- Davis gave them all tickets to last night's game -- but not everyone was dressed for the occasion.

As hard as he tried to conceal his Cleveland Indians jacket, David Fakunle had to face the music when the Orioles outfielder signaled him to the table for "a conversation."

"My mom told me it might be cold at night at Camden Yards," the 11-year-old said, holding the evidence on his lap.

Davis didn't hold it against him, and later gave him an autographed baseball for being the first to guess Cincinnati when the children were asked where Davis played before Baltimore.

Even if they didn't know when Davis joined the major leagues (1984), when he won his Golden Glove awards (1987, 1988, 1989) or when he played in the World Series (1990), they all knew about the colon cancer.

Jourdain Dutton, 11, said he admired Davis -- one of his favorite Orioles -- for fighting the disease. "I think he's a good inspiration and role model," the sixth-grader said. "He taught me never to give up."

Pub Date: 7/11/98

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