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Baseball Tomorrow Fund gives Willis Sports a makeover

Willis Sports celebrates a BTF grant at Historic Dodgertown on April 15, 2017.
November 14, 2017

ABOUT WILLIS SPORTS ASSOCIATION Willis Sports Association (WSA), Inc. in Vero Beach, FL provides baseball and softball programs to underserved youth. WSA offers its participants ages 2-18 a variety of programs including a toddler program, an RBI Enrichment Program, a 4 M.E. Program, and an RBI League. WSA's RBI League

ABOUT WILLIS SPORTS ASSOCIATION
Willis Sports Association (WSA), Inc. in Vero Beach, FL provides baseball and softball programs to underserved youth. WSA offers its participants ages 2-18 a variety of programs including a toddler program, an RBI Enrichment Program, a 4 M.E. Program, and an RBI League. WSA's RBI League includes T-Ball/coach's pitch and a minor and major age division.
THE PROJECT
Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) is a youth baseball program operated by Major League Baseball (MLB), and is designed to provide youth from underserved communities the opportunity to play baseball and softball. RBI encourages minorities to participate by providing character development and access to higher education opportunities through financial assistance and scholarships.
WSA's RBI league allows youth ages 4-18 to participate on several teams, including the Florida Dodgers Baseball program. MLB endorses the RBI League, and its mission aims to broaden the opportunities available to disadvantaged youth by affording players increased exposure to cultural events and academic attainment. The population that WSA serves are primarily low-income, disadvantaged children with over 90% of participants living in poverty-ridden areas.
Due to barriers of the low-income families WSA serves, providing kids with the proper equipment to play the game safely is a major challenge. A BTF grant of $7,500 helped work towards a resolution, aiding Willis Sports with hats, jerseys, pants, cleats and gloves. On April 15th, 2017, WSA celebrated Jackie Robinson Day with a check presentation at Historic Dodgertown.
Q&A WITH JAMES WILLIS
James Willis is the Founder, President, and Director of Sports Operations for Willis Sports Associations, Inc.
How and when did you get involved or become interested in baseball?
I am a sports person and I am particularly a baseball man. I have been involved in baseball since the age of four. As I grew in baseball, I discovered my strengths and confidence in the game and since then that feeling has stuck to me from my early childhood through adulthood.
Describe your organization's staff structure.
Willis Sports is governed by eight board members, and the staffing structure starts with myself and my wife, April (Executive Administrator and Programs Coordinator). Our support staff consists of four academic coaches as well as 10 recreational coaches. In addition, hosts of parents and volunteers help Willis Sports run smoothly.
What agencies, organizations or companies provide support (financial or otherwise) to your organization?
A special thank you to Indian River County, Historic Dodgertown, the Children Services Advisory Council (CSAC) of Indian River County, the Baseball Tomorrow Fund (BTF), Quail Valley Charities and many others for their continued support!
What was the biggest challenge for your organization?
Even with how much Willis Sports has expanded over the years, "growth" is still our biggest challenge. Growth is a sign that we are doing something right; however, growth make us nervous in the same sense because quality in our opinion far more significant than quantity. Ensuring that the exposure our organization provides children is rich with fundamental training and caring remains our biggest priority.
What was the biggest challenge during the project?
The biggest challenged we faced with the uniforms was sizes. It was very difficult to identify the sizes of players for the summer season, which is our largest season. However, this years' experience with uniforms and sizes definitely gave us a leg up for next year.
How did the project affect your program?
The BTF grant made the league this season possible. Our players were able to play the great game of baseball and feel extremely good about how they looked. Parents were able to enjoy their child's involvement without having to stress about uniforms or equipment expenses. Everyone who participated had the necessities and their focus was on learning the game of baseball and not on what they did not have as it pertained to material items. Our participants were able to enjoy being a kids and have FUN while playing baseball.
What has been the most significant or important accomplishment of your organization?
Our most significant accomplishment to date would be increasing the number of minorities and disadvantage youth engaging in the support of baseball. Since becoming a RBI league, we have introduced and exposed over a 150 kids to the sport of baseball.
What's next for your organization?
Due to the collaboration between MLB, USA Baseball, Franklin Sports and Shape America, Willis Sports Association will implement three Fun at Bat Elementary Program at schools and local agencies in Indian River county in 2017-18. Additionally, our league will undergo its third level of expansion by offering league play to 16-18 year olds. Our middle school character development/enrichment program will expand to include girls in the upcoming school year. We are still striving to expand the recreational offering to include a softball league.
What advice do you have for other organizations?
The advice we would give to other organizations would be take advantage of opportunities to learn from all realms - from kids, players, parents, boards, the community, and governing bodies. I feel we have been given an opportunity to make a generation of children, youth, and ball players better individuals not just not good baseball players; therefore, always keep the development of children at the forefront of plans, games, events, practices, and strategizing for success. Winning championships within children and youth breeds success and this principal should never be compromised on behalf of the scoreboard.