COLUMBIA, Mo. - An inner-city baseball league is struggling to find support and organizers blame its name.
Douglass Park's Youth Baseball League recruits young players, but playing on a field where a string of crimes have happened concerns parents.
Sam Brady, the league's coordinator, said the co-ed league averages between 100 and 150 kids every summer. This year, he plans to increase that number to at least 200 kids. Before the fields are chalked and the first pitch is thrown, Brady told ABC 17 he needs help from the community to end the stigma that's associated with Douglass Park.
"You tell a parent, 'I want your kid to play in my program,' and they look at you and say, 'I don't think so. Not at that park.'"
It's a response too frequently heard when Brady goes door to door seeking the community's help. He starts recruiting players, coaches and other volunteers in the park's neighborhood before moving to other neighborhoods in Columbia. Most of the time, he hears concern and understands, but Brady said the program comes with strong support from authorities.
"Our partnership with the Columbia Police Department makes sure our kids are safe," Brady said. "They canvass. They patrol. They're at games. They're at practices."
One parent said those heavy patrols lend another benefit to the kids involved.
"The kids aren't as afraid of officers anymore because they realize police can be your friend," said Shelly Stratton, a parent and coach in the league.
Stratton coaches and has four children playing in the league. With more kids comes the need for more coaches like her. Otherwise, players have to be turned away.
"They were all signed up and ready to go. They just didn't have a coach to lead them," Stratton said. "I just couldn't see kids not being able to play the game because they're was nobody there to help them through it."
The kids practicing talked about how they learn teamwork and get to have fun without having to compete. Brady hopes the main reward extends into the community, starting the legacy of what he sees as a more positive place in Douglass Park.
"Get involved and be a part of something that is positive for our kids," Brady said. "If we continue to let crime stop us, crime wins. I refuse to let that happen."
Brady says the league costs players much less than other city leagues. At only $27 per player, the league has three different age ranges: Tee Ball (5-6), Coach Pitch (7-8) and Player Pitch (9-10). Registration comes with a free T-shirt and all equipment provided.
Scholarships are awarded to families with lower incomes that can't otherwise afford to participate. Registration lasts until May 1 and the first game begins in June. For more information on how to sign up, follow this link to the Columbia Parks and Recreation website.