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May, 2019

Chicago Cubs partner with AFCA to upgrade Dawes Park

In the sports world, the unveiling of a brand-new facility is equivalent to opening gifts on Christmas morning. For Athletes for Christ Association (AFCA) of Chicago, Illinois, the re-opening of Dawes Park not only means that countless kids will flock to the league’s South Side location to play ball, but the local community will have a place to call home that’s worth showing off like a present.

“People are elated,” said AFCA President Brandon McNair. “We now have the ability to accommodate all age groups and all experience levels, which we’re very proud of. We’re already at capacity for this season, but I would expect a 20-25-percent jump in participation next season because of our new facilities. We’ve got guys telling me ‘wow, I saw you guys over the weekend on the news. How can I get my son involved?’”

Paralleling PONY Baseball and Softball’s mission to Protect Our Nation’s Youth through providing children with the opportunity to play the game is the Chicago Cubs Charities Diamond Project, which has partnered with LISC Chicago to fund and manage capital improvement projects that improve the quality, safety and accessibility to local baseball fields or indoor training facilities in Chicago. Since 2014, the Diamond Project has invested more than $7.5 million to fund 60 capital improvement projects, 59 youth programs and new sports equipment across Chicago. Recently, the Cubs held a ribbon cutting ceremony during AFCA’s Opening Day to recognize the upgrades to Dawes Park.

McNair said after his 2018 application was approved, construction quickly began in September of 2018. McNair said sod was laid in the infield of the main ballfield. Softball fields that were falling apart were turned into fully operational baseball fields. Pieces of equipment, like portable mounds, outfield fences, bases and new benches were installed. Also, a new batting cage at AFCA’s indoor winter training facility at a nearby high school was put in.

Overall, McNair said the Chicago Cubs invested approximately $65,000 into Dawes Park, while the City of Chicago Parks District invested $150,000. According to McNair, five years ago, Illinois Senator Jackie Collins provided the park with $70,000 to get the basics done at the park when the field was in disrepair.

“Senator Collins started this whole initiative to clean it up and get it right, so the Cubs are finishing it off,” said McNair. “We’re proud, as Chicago residents, and them, being a long-standing organization in Chicago, that they’re able to extend their arms beyond the North Side and include groups and teams from the South Side.”

McNair said the upgrades to the park have positively changed its perception to outside tournament teams that may have been previously apprehensive about coming to play at Dawes Park.

“It’s huge because I grew up in the same park,” said McNair. “We had black dirt mixed in with glass fragments, and that was 25-30 years ago. The elders then did their best to clean up the park to make it at least safe for us to play on, but they looked like crap. It’s great for the kids now to compete in a safe haven, where they don’t have to worry about sliding and coming up with a piece of glass stuck in their hip like I once did when I was 10-11-years-old. It’s a better, stronger feeling of pride to now come to Dawes Park and go ‘hey, this is a real-deal park.’ We have all of the stuff that any other park has. Our kids can freely compete without any limitations whatsoever.”

The AFCA Youth Baseball League Was founded by Rev. Archie Mason of Shiloh Baptist Church in 1977. Now in its 42nd-year, AFCA has served thousands of youth in the Englewood and Auburn-Gresham neighborhoods of Chicago’s South Side. The league’s vision is to inspire and surround youth with positivity and hope – where they can be mentored by successful role models and develop the tools to become a success. AFCA is dedicated to seeing each player reach maximum peak performance on-and-off the field. It believes that through dedication, commitment, perseverance and faith, they will develop the next generation of baseball players and leaders in their community. AFCA offers baseball age groups in Pinto 8U, Mustang 10U, Bronco 12U and Pony 14U.

AFCA has witnessed widespread success in PONY tournament play recently, as a powerhouse in PONY’s North Zone. The league has won back-to-back championships at the Bronco-11 World Series in Chesterfield, Virginia, while also making appearances recently at the Mustang and Bronco World Series, respectively, for players in the 10U and 12U age divisions. The league is also in the process of participating in the Pinto International Baseball Classic this July in Mt. Vernon, Illinois.

Moving forward, McNair said the challenge now becomes finding volunteers to support the influx of children that he expects to join the league. He’s welcoming of those who are willing to provide their time, talent and energy to support their league and keep the positive momentum going.

“The old adage ‘if you build it they will come’ still rings true on this one,” said McNair.

PONY Baseball and Softball

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