Junior Giants give kids major league summer

Louis LaVenture,

I grew up in South Hayward, just down the street from the Cal State East Bay Hayward campus. During the summer I played little league baseball, but by July, the season was over and I had a couple months of break before school started up again.

This downtime was filled with hanging out with friends, bike riding, swimming at our apartment pool and other activities we could do in our neighborhood, but there weren’t many organized events for students in our community.

Enter the Junior Giants. Sixteen years ago the Hayward Junior Giants chapter opened up at Weekes Park in South Hayward thanks in large part to a Hayward school counselor, Denise Patterson, who was looking for programs to implement in the summer.

The program is overseen by the city of Hayward’s Youth and Family Services Bureau, which is headed by Administrator Emily Young.

“It’s about much more than just baseball,” Young said. “We have practices and games, but we also try and teach the kids about healthy eating choices, mental health, physical health and reading.”

In addition to weekly one-hour skills drills, where players learn baseball techniques from coaches who are police officers and Hayward high school students, they also play in at least one game per week, according to Young.

Young said the healthy eating program includes a calendar with stickers to track eating and exercise habits. The reading program is themed like bases, with each base representing a different level of achievement. Participants receive prizes and incentives to keep them engaged in the activities that include the word of the week and talking with mental health counselors about making healthy choices.

Young said when she took over six years ago they had about 300 kids in the five-week program, but a steady increase has led to 582 participants this season.

“This is a great opportunity for kids who are interested in baseball to keep up their techniques, meet people, make friends and do something positive for the community,” Elizabeth Eiras, mother of a first year Junior Giants player said. “If he wasn’t in Junior Giants he would be playing piano, something he wouldn’t want to be doing.”

Eiras’ son Zachary is in his first year of playing baseball and they heard about the program through the little league he played for, Treeview in South Hayward.

According to the Junior Giants, the league began 24 years ago and has maintained its original principles as a noncompetitive, free co-ed baseball program. The program has more than 25,000 participants in California, Nevada and Oregon and all of the kids are offered equipment, uniforms, program incentives and coaches training.

The ages range from five to 14, and teams are broken up into age divisions: 5-6, 7-8, 9-10 and 11 and up. The first two weeks of the program kids participate in one-hour skills drills Monday through Thursday, after that, they have one practice and one game a week for the duration of the season.

According to Young, she believes a major part of the success has to do with it being free of cost. The Junior Giants also provide participants with free breakfast and lunch through the Hayward Unified School District. The team, comprised of police officers, mental health counselors and high school students also provides a surplus of qualified and quality mentors for the kids, according to Young.