With fall sports seasons winding down and winter one ramping up, it’s a good time for a little perspective on kids’ sports.
That’s what sports psychologist Richard D. Ginsburg, PhD. aimed to impart in a recent lecture to a group of parents in the auditorium of one of Baltimore’s elite schools and, not incidentally, athletic powerhouses. He began with this loaded question: “Why do kids play sports?” The answers—health, friendship, fitness—sounded reasonable. The phrases “college scholarships” and “popularity” were not uttered. But Ginsburg, a former competitive athlete and parent of two young kids, knows better.
Braylon Edwards, wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers, didn’t play in last night’s game, so we can’t credit him with that satisfying defeat of the Pittsburgh Steelers. But that’s okay; he was still making a difference.
During Edwards’s rookie year with the Cleveland Browns, the Cleveland native picked 100 high-achieving but at-risk eighth graders in the public school system. Edwards was just starting out in the NFL; these kids were just about to start high school — it was a rookie making a pledge to a bunch of other rookies. But Edwards’s pledge to those 100 students was about academics, not football. He promised them that if they graduated high school with at least a 2.5 GPA, completed 15 hours of community service, and were recognized as exemplary students, he would give them each a $10,000 scholarship toward college. Four years later, 79 of those kids succeeded — amidst a school system where more than half of kids who start high school drop out before graduation — and Edwards was true to his promise. Now, members of the Advance 100 Program are enrolled in schools from Kent State to Harvard to Bowling Green State. And Edwards has provided them with support, school supplies, and even laptops to help them make the transition.
Allison Watts, a Johns Hopkins freshman and member of Edwards’s program, appears in this ESPN video that aired during last night’s Monday Night Football. You can glimpse shots of Gilman Hall and the grassy quads of Hopkins as Watts discusses how she benefitted from the program. “I couldn’t even fathom having $1 million [the amount that Edwards has donated to his scholarship recipients],” Watts notes. “Just willing giving that away?” she says. And that’s exactly what Edwards has done.
As far as preppy sports go, rowing is right up there with lacrosse and squash. Which is exactly the reason Judd Anderson and the other volunteers at Reach High Baltimore: Rowers Empowering Baltimore City Youth think it should be taught to kids from all neighborhoods, not just wealthy ones.
This past year, 36 middle schoolers from poor South Baltimore neighborhoods participated in the program, which is run by the Baltimore Rowing Club. They started out as complete novices — many couldn’t even swim. Through regular meetings, the kids not only become skilled rowers; they’re also encouraged”to swim, get fit, and achieve in school,” according to Anderson. There’s even a high school team for kids who stick with the sport.
And while fitness and goal-setting are admirable goals, the project — still in its early years — may have an even more far-reaching impact on participants, since smaller sports (like rowing) are a good way to get scholarships to elite schools. And so while inner city rowing programs are just the beginning to “break[ing] through social, racial, and economic glass ceilings,” they’re a step in the right direction.
Until this week, the best-known connection between Baltimore and the central Asian nation of Azerbaijan was Kavkaz Kebab, an Azerbaijani restaurant in an Owings Mills strip mall.
That may change now that the Azerbaijan America Alliance has started to fund scholarships through the Urban Alliance Baltimore, a non-profit that helps prepare low-income youth for workplace success, according to the Huffington Post. The Azerbaijani donation will, according to Urban Alliance’s executive director, “change the lives of ten youths in Baltimore.” And that’s not the nation’s only foray into the Baltimore education system; the Azerbaijani government is reportedly “exploring long-term educational partnerships with Baltimore’s top-tier institutions, including Johns Hopkins University, UMBC and John Hopkins Medical Center.”
Now, I know as much about gift horses as the next girl, but I can’t help wondering: Why? Baltimore’s students can certainly use the help, and we’ve got some of the country’s best universities… but still! And unlike Honolulu, Newark, or Houston, we’re not even sister-cities with any Azerbaijani locales. Can anyone explain this to me?