Seven months after holding its annual ceremony virtually due to precautions with the pandemic, the Academic Excellence Team, part of Major League Baseball's Compton Youth Academy, held its commemorative ceremony in person on Saturday at the Compton Youth Academy. The tradition awards student-athletes who had a GPA of 3.2 or higher.
The Compton Youth Academy gives underrepresented student-athletes a platform to play baseball and softball. Rocky Gholson, the educational coordinator with the academy, developed the AET in 2016.
"I want to make them all feel above average, which is why I call it excellence," Gholson said. "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 AET Awards honor baseball and softball players from grades 6-12 who have maintained good grades for the applying school semester. A total of 70 students were honored during the 2022 virtual ceremony. The awards are given based on GPA and are assigned a category of AET success: athletes with a 3.2-3.49 GPA are listed as “Shooting Stars,” 3.5-3.99 GPA are “All Stars,” and 4.0 or above are “Super Stars.”
Mahki Backstrom was a part of the program before being drafted by the Braves in 2019. Three years later, his brother Hunter Backstrom earned the same honor.
The Backstrom brothers represent only one of the successful sibling stories to come out of the AET, and the pipeline of motivation continues to other kids from every pathway.
Since 2018, 635 MLB Develops program alumni (90% of whom are Black) have gone on to play at the college level. Eleven alumni of the MLB Youth Academy (which opened its first location in Compton, Calif., in 2006) have reached the Majors, including Kyle Higashioka, Aaron Hicks, Hunter Greene and Dillon Tate.
The academy allows young Black athletes the opportunity to play baseball, and the excellence team instills the importance of education, and how going to college can impact their lives after the game stops.
"Potentially 99 percent 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."
The experiences that the student-athletes receive can impact their career trajectory, whether in baseball, softball or beyond, but MLB's Youth Academies and AET give them an opportunity that they can take with them for the rest of their lives.
"My goal is to plant seeds that someday will grow in your lives,” Gholson said. “I tell them to put this on their resumes when they graduate, tell [admissions officers or hiring personnel] that you were a member of the MLB Youth Academy and Academic Excellence Team, and tell people your success story."