Long before Cincinnati Reds pitcher Hunter Greene took the mound in his professional debut against the World Series defending champion Atlanta Braves this spring, he played baseball at the Youth Academy in Compton, Calif. The facility is part of Major League Baseball's initiative to serve underprivileged youth.
On Saturday, the Academy's Academic Excellence Team held its first in-person ceremony for members who won scholastic awards since the COVID-19 pandemic forced many programs to cancel gatherings. The event was the follow-up to the virtual function earlier this year where 70 students in grades 6-12 were honored for earning GPAs above 3.2 in various categories.
"I want to make them all feel above average, which is why I call it 'excellence,'" Educational Development Coordinator Rocky Gholson told MLB.com. "I told them, 'Make sure you remember, you're not just normal folks. Everybody that's sitting in front of us today has received excellence in what you're doing in school.' And we weren't just rewarding them for their grades, but we were rewarding them for the efforts that they made during the pandemic."
The program, which sponsors baseball and softball teams, seeks to equip kids with life skills to go to college and have successful careers beyond their sport. Guest speakers frequently share their life stories and words of encouragement. The Academy also hosts events like Thanksgiving turkey drives for local families.
"Potentially 99% of the people that were sitting in front of me on Saturday, talking about academic and athletic excellence, are not going to the pros, and I have to tell them that to their faces," Gholson said. "But the fact is, you all can go to college. Every single one of you. There is a college that will take you, but you have to want that."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB's Compton Youth Academy holds academic honors ceremony