Every Monday afternoon a group of GW student-athletes from the baseball and softball teams head over to Fort DuPont Park, located in SE Washington, D.C., to play some ball and help mentor young children. It is an opportunity for the student-athletes to introduce the sport they love to children while also passing on valuable life lessons they have learned from playing the game.
Fort DuPont Park is the location of the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, and after-school program created by the Washington Nationals in partnership with Major League Baseball and the District of Columbia government. The Nationals Youth Baseball Academy facilities officially opened earlier this year. The program's mission is to promote character development, aid academic success and improve the health of at-risk children in the Washington D.C., area. The Academy runs three days a week during the school year and provides participants with a healthy meal, as well as hourlong sessions of study hall, baseball/softball practice, mentoring and a nutritional cooking class.
"The best part of volunteering is definitely the kids. They always find a way to make us laugh. It is great to see how much we help make their day better," said Morgan Matetic, a junior on the GW softball team, who spoke enthusiastically about the rich experience of working with the children from week to week. "I look forward to volunteering every Monday. I have lots of fun interacting with the kids and watching them progress each week."
A typical baseball/softball training session begins with a group stretch involving both children and GW student-athletes. Each college athlete then pairs up with an Academy participant for a throwing warm-up that works on proper technique. After warming up the kids are split into groups. Each group goes to work at a different station led by a college athlete. The stations are typically broken into four different groups: fielding, hitting, infield and outfield. After each group has rotated through each station, the whole group comes together in a huddle, and the player of the day leads a final quick cheer to end practice.
Meghan Rico, a junior pitcher on the GW softball team, spoke about the nuances of the experience. "It is interesting to see how other people go about living their lives and to understand the challenges these 7-to-11-year-olds are facing, compared to what I faced at that age," she said.
Through the program, the student-athletes act as mentors and use baseball lessons as a way to help the children develop the skills to become better leaders, teammates and members of the community.
"I can see we have a lasting impression on these young players and it makes me very thankful for those that did the same for me when I was younger," said Matthieu Robert, a junior on the GW baseball team, who spoke warmly about his work as a mentor and how exciting it is to see the children succeed. "My favorite memory from the Academy was teaching one of the players, Paul, to readjust his hands while hitting. The next pitch, Paul hit a ball to the fence, and his face lit up with a huge smile."