Local girls will compete this weekend in Major League Baseball’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) regional tournament, a program that cultivate ballplayer talent in inner cities.
The DC Grays RBI women’s softball team will face off against teams from North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Baltimore, with the hopes of making it to the RBI World Series in Cincinnati, thanks to the generosity of the Grays.
“Two years ago the DC Grays applied for and received a grant from Major League Baseball directly to be the facilitator for the RBI program in Washington, D.C.,” said Harry Thomas, DC Grays RBI softball director. “RBI is the MLB’s answer to reviving baseball in the inner city. It also encompasses girls softball.”
Thomas, the program coordinator for all of the softball components, said the organization wants to simply give the girls an opportunity, which first comes from removing financial blocks.
“We are very blessed that the Grays, as an organization, [is] financially committed so that the financial barrier is out of the way for these girls,” he said. “Part of what the Grays are doing is restoring several fields in the area and they support other leagues, but the girls component has really grown.”
The Grays are a MLB-sponsored team in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League in which college players around the country get the opportunity to travel and gain experience.
The local collegiate team got its name from the historic Homestead Grays of the Negro National League which once called Washington home.
The original mission of the team was to create and develop a group that would become “ambassadors for baseball” in the District. The main goal now is to engage more inner city youth and their families in the sport of baseball by bringing talented college ballplayers from around the country to play in a top-tier summer league, conducting summer camps and clinics for kids.
Now in its second year, the RBI softball program boasts roughly 50 girls, ages 10 to 19, who participate in year-round programs including a fall league, winter and spring indoor clinics and camps for children.
“After the summer camps, we culminate with the summer league, selecting older girls at the 19u level that represents the District of Columbia in the regional tournament which we will be in this week in Philadelphia,” Thomas said.
The tournament runs from July 20-23, hosted by the Philadelphia Phillies.
“The most important thing that we do is we try and take our very experienced players and hold open practices,” Thomas said. “Our older players work with kids who are just learning so they can go through the steps and processes and see how the game is to be played.
“We are very fortunate this year, because we have two girls in our program that are currently playing at the college level that are good mentors to the girls that come into the program,” he said. “What we also do is develop girls from our different leagues and local high schools and get them ready for tournament play, but the ultimate goal is get them into college. We help them as athletes teaching them the proper way to play and to be student-athletes while preparing them for their future.”
Thomas said the most important thing the public should know is that Title IX, a portion of the United States Education Amendments of 1972, paved the way for the girls to be student-athletes.
“The act created great opportunities at the college level for girls to be able to compete and play,” Thomas said. “We also take our girls to academic showcases, because our goal is to get our girls into college, so we try to use their athletic ability to open up avenues.
“We are going to be taking 12 girls to a showcase in Long Island, New York,” he said. “These showcases help, so that inner-city girls can have the same opportunities as girls from much more privileged backgrounds.”
Thomas added that they target schools such as Harvard, Yale, Howard, Hampton and the top academic schools in the nation.
“What people need to realize is that academics plays a huge part in recruiting and getting into schools,” he said. “The better you are academically, the more doors that are open for you.”