Officials hope baseball can once again bring city kids together

President's Cup pulls top public, private teams into a tournament with a social cause

  • At City Hall, Baltimore City Council president Jack Young, at podium, is joined by high school baseball players, Orioles director of communications Greg Bader, city schools chief Andres Alonso and others in announcing a high school baseball tournament featuring city public and private schools. The tournament is called the President's Cup.
At City Hall, Baltimore City Council president Jack Young,… (Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara…)
March 24, 2011|By Mike Klingaman, The Baltimore Sun

There was a time in Baltimore city when players from public and private high schools competed regularly on the baseball field. Meanwhile, in the stands, their parents — both black and white — would shake hands, share banter and discover that, maybe, they weren't so different after all.

That scenario, though 20 years old, is what city officials hope to resurrect by creating a citywide baseball tournament next month that will bring together eight of the best public and parochial school teams.

The tourney, called the President's Cup and introduced at a City Hall press conference Thursday, will start April 9 and culminate with the championship game April 16 at Camden Yards. Private schools competing include Gilman, Mount St. Joe, St. Frances, Friends and Boys Latin. Public school teams will be announced April 7. The event won't be costly for the city; the Orioles are allowing usage of their field at no cost, and each team will pay a small fee to compensate the umpires.

"This is a great opportunity to break down barriers and renew old acquaintances and rivalries," said Tim Holley, Gilman's athletic director and vice president of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association.

Holley graduated from Gilman in 1977, when most schools in the city competed in the Maryland Scholastic Association, an umbrella league that was unique in its time — the only high school organization in the country that integrated both public, parochial and independent schools. The MSA was disbanded in 1993, but city public and private schools continue to play each occasionally in non-league games. But it's not the same.

More's the pity, Holley said.

"You could make the argument that kids in Baltimore neighborhoods today are more segregated than 30 years ago," he said. "Our public and private schools don't compete much anymore.

"Unfortunately, most kids from Gilman couldn't tell you how to get to schools like Dunbar or Forest Park. But their predecessors from my day could take you there, blindfolded — and we looked forward to playing there.

"What happened when we played schools like Southwestern and Mervo? It exposed people to each other. It dropped the ignorance — and not just on the field. Affluent parents from Boys Latin and Carver sat in the stands and said, 'You know, so-and-so is a cute kid,' or, 'What a nice mom that boy has.' You saw people for who they were, rather than who you thought they were."

The President's Cup is the brainchild of City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who grew up playing sandlot games on fields teeming with players. He, too, hopes the tournament triggers a rebirth of sorts.

"Baseball was something we played every day, and we don't see that today," said Young, who graduated from Northern High. "One fond memory I have is when my rec league, which didn't have uniforms or new equipment, played a mixed-race team that had batting cages, new uniforms, spikes and all the best equipment.

"No one thought we'd win, but we won that game. That's the kind of healthy competition that evens the playing fields and brings together the city's youth. The point of the President's Cup is to show kids that, through sports, their differences aren't enough to keep them from learning from one another."

The idea appealed to Andres Alonso, CEO of Baltimore City schools.

"This is (Young's) vision," Alonso said. "School is not simply about the books, but about teaching team spirit, collaboration and insuring that kids remain engaged — and giving them a sense of purpose.

"We don't see kids play baseball as we used to. We see soccer, and we see basketball. The question is, why not baseball, and what can we do to maintain what, I think, remains America's game?"

Even big league officials praised the concept.

"The President's Cup will demonstrate baseball's remarkable ability to serve as a common bond," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a news release. "Providing young people with ample opportunity to engage in our sport is paramount to Major League Baseball."

Bob Wade, who coached Edmondson baseball from 1970-75, said that a number of his players of that era forged personal relationships with others from predominately white teams.

"It was very challenging to compete on the same level with a Calvert Hall or a Mount St. Joe," said Wade, now coordinator of athletics for city public schools. "But after the game, many kids would fraternize with opponents before getting on the bus. When I see those (alumni) today, they say they still have ties with those players."

That's one of the draws of the President's Cup, Gilman's Holley said.

"What I like about this (tournament) is that it's going to force people to sit down in the vicinity of one another other and not only compete, but share," he said. "Because, currently, we don't do a whole lot of sharing."

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