COLUMBIA — Up next to the plate was a little boy with a helmet too big for his head that slid down his forehead and covered his face. The bat wobbled between his small hands as he readjusted his helmet and waited for the right moment to hit the softball from the tee.
In the midst of all the flying dirt and the dinging of bats hitting the fence, the Douglass Athletic Association's baseball season had just begun.
Music blared from a multitude of speakers jammed into a yellow truck with Curtis Boogieman Soul as disc jockey. Smoke billowed from the grill that produced hotdogs and hamburgers, offered free to attendees.
"Line up and get yo' food, don't forget that now," Sam Brady, coordinator of the Douglass league for the past three years, said to folks who watched the diamond from the bleachers.
About 150 gathered Saturday to kick off the Douglass Athletic Association's summer baseball program at Douglass Park.
Along with Brady, Columbia police officers James Meyer and Jamie Dowler, known as "Starsky and Hutch" by the community, helped coordinate the kickoff event with the help of local businesses that have donated food for the event and the program itself.
"Lucky's Market has been absolutely amazing," Brady said. "I had contacted (Shelley LaFader), and she has given me enough mustard, relish and ketchup to last me the whole season."
The Douglass summer baseball program began in 1996 when Wynna Faye Elbert decided to create a baseball program for children. Originally, Elbert planned on making just one team when she approached John Kelly and asked him to be an officiator. The program attracted a lot more participants than expected, though, so Elbert, John Kelly and his brother, Rod Kelly, opened a league. Eighteen years later, the program has grown successfully.
"We teach every year baseball 101," John Kelly said. "The kids learn about the game."
In the 18 years it has been running, no violent incidents have occurred within the program, contradicting what John Kelly says is the unsavory reputation of Douglass Park.
"This is our 18th year," John Kelly said. "We've had no incidents of any kind. So it kind of flies in the face of what people think of Douglass Park."
What makes the league different from other baseball leagues is the team mascots. Each team is named after a famous team from the Negro League.
"Kids will Google the team (on) their own and learn not just sports history but American history," John Kelly said.
The baseball program also prides itself on being noncompetitive — score isn't kept at the games.
"We're noncompetitive. We're about fun; we're all in it for teaching them teamwork and the good things we all got from sports 'cause most of us played something in high school," Rod Kelly said.
Tamara Wills, mother of a son who has gone through the program and a younger son currently in it, gave her thoughts on the program.
"You don't have to pay a whole lot of money for it," Wills said. "It's all about having fun. It's not like the competitive leagues."
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