At-risk South Valley youth enjoy softball games and camaraderie
The tournament motivates the students to do better academically, raise grades
Published in Morgan Hill October 12-25, 2016
By Staff Report
At Morgan Hill’s Community Park, at-risk young men and women from throughout Santa Clara County came together for a series of friendly softball games Sept. 16 at the third-annual Pro-Com Athletic League tournament.
South County continuation and community school students participated from Odyssey Community School in San Martin, Central High School in Morgan Hill, James Ranch/Blue Ridge High School, Mt. Madonna High School in Gilroy and a program in San Jose. Central High School won the tournament. Gilroy and Morgan Hill police officers joined the students as umpires for the games.
Ruben Piedra, a senior at Central, said the event was a way to enjoy a summer day playing softball in the camaraderie of classmates and a chance to make new friends.
“It just gives a chance to chill and get out of the whole school atmosphere and have fun for a day,” he said. “Central is a small school so when we’re playing softball, we all just kick in and have a good time. ”
County juvenile probation officer Jennifer Daughenbaug said school staff and probation staff came together to engage the community schools and continuation schools in various extra-curricular activities because the at-risk young people do not have those opportunities for fun competition.
“Kids get expelled from their regular school or they go on probation for committing a crime so they go to a community or continuation school, and they go to school less time so they don’t have sports,” she said.
Ten years ago the probation officers got together and decided that they could do something to change that and the Pro-Com Athletic League was born.
“We informally threw together a basketball league at the last minute — and we were reffing it ourselves,” she said. “We were pulling schools from all over the county — from Gilroy all the way to Sunnyvale and Mountain View and the community schools up there.”
The concept grew and money was raised from friends and people interested in sports for youth to get some uniforms, she said. Three years ago, the softball tournament was started as a one-day event in the fall.
The project is sponsored by the South County Youth Task Force — a collaboration between the city of Gilroy and the city of Morgan Hill that was started six years ago, Dougherty said. The city of Morgan Hill provides the fields for free and probation officers from the county and police officers from Gilroy and Morgan Hill come out to help referee on their time off.
“These are cops who are interested in this kind of stuff who are volunteering here today,” she said. “They interact with the kids and cheer them on and talk to them. It’s my favorite day of the year because it’s just so positive and amazing.”
Central High School, a continuation school at the Loritta Bonfante Johnson Center, did not have an afternoon sports program so it also got involved with the tournament, said Frank Lines, a teacher at Central.
“I utilized this as an opportunity to build leadership, a sense of camaraderie,” he said. “No matter if we win or lose, the kids get something. I see the kids wear the T-shirt for the rest of the week, and they’ll put it up on the wall. They’ll come back. I have one or two of the kids come back every year and say they still have their medal.”
The game also motivates the students to do better academically, he said.
“Not one of my team had full passing grades. A couple of them were failing every single class,” he said. “In order to qualify to come, they had to bring those grades up in a week’s time. Now in some cases, we have allowed D’s, but the sense of accomplishment that I have that goal and I met that goal, now I can play is a foundation that we build on. That’s why this is important to us.”
Dougherty had a big smile on her face when she heard Lines tell this story.
“That these kids are motivated to raise their grades in a week because they wanted to be here — that makes me want to cry. That’s so awesome,” she said.
Central senior Jose Paredes and Alfonso Baltzar said the experience playing in the tournament as a team a rewarding one for them.
“It’s good because we’re not in class and working in school all day. We also get to meet other people and just enjoy the day,” Paredes said.
“It’s a pretty nice experience because you get to experience things like a normal high school,” Baltzar said. “You get to play some sports outside with other people. It brings people together.”