On Tuesday, the Reds Community Fund celebrated its fifth annual RCF Signing Day, presented by Ohio’s 529 Plan CollegeAdvantage. The event honors high school seniors from the P&G MLB Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy and RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) Program who have earned the opportunity to continue their baseball and softball careers at the collegiate level.
With 2020’s RCF Signing Day held virtually, this was the first time in two years that the Reds were able to welcome a graduating class at Great American Ball Park. Inside the Jeff Wyler Family Hall of Fame Theater at the Reds Hall Fame presented by Dinsmore, this year’s ceremony recognized 15 student-athletes. Fourteen of the seniors will be playing collegiate baseball and one, Brianna Tharps, was honored for her decision to serve in the United States Air Force.
Bally Sports Ohio’s Brian Giesenschlag hosted the event, and he was joined by Reds President and Chief Operating Officer Phil Castellini, National Baseball Hall of Famer and Senior Advisor to the President/COO Barry Larkin, General Manager Nick Krall and Reds Community Fund Executive Director Charley Frank, among others.
Before the players signed their official commitment letters, Castellini and the other special guests addressed the young athletes.
“We would love to produce the next Barry Larkin at the Reds Youth Academy, and I might be looking at that person,” Castellini said. “But at the end of the day, we’re more in the business of changing lives and changing outcomes. And that’s what you all have taken the opportunity to do for yourselves. You made a decision to do that and worked hard, stuck with it and now you’re here about to sign the documents that will allow you to take advantage of the next opportunity to go to school and advance yourself, whether it’s in the game or that next stage in life.”
Giesenschlag asked each of the signees questions about their experiences at the Reds Youth Academy. Cole Francis, who will be attending Marietta University, spoke about the importance of his five years with the RBI Program.
“The first thing I’d point to is the diversity and community,” he said. “I think that was the biggest thing I took away my first year there, being able to play with people from so many walks of life. Especially in the world we live in today, I think that means more than anything in terms of broadening your perspective and not only appreciating baseball but appreciating the people you’re playing with and working with every day. I think that the Academy more than anything lays that foundation. You learn more about yourself through the game and the people that you’re doing it with every day.”
The response earned an ovation from the family members and Reds representatives in attendance, and many of Francis’ teammates echoed his thoughts and painted a similar picture of what the Academy has meant to them. Ryan Dace Jr. and Quinton Hall spoke about having wished they had discovered the Academy earlier because of the doors and opportunities it opened for them, particularly off the field. Larkin touched on these non-baseball elements while talking to the group.
“Just about every single one of you talked about comradery, relationships and diversity,” he said. “Those things are so vitally important, especially where we are in this world today. I just want to encourage you to make sure that you don’t lose those connections you have made.”
In another of the day’s memorable moments, Castellini individually acknowledged Tharps. Her fellow RBI members and everyone in the theater stood up and applauded to show their appreciation for her selfless and courageous career path.
“Ever since I was a little girl, my dream was to play softball in college, but after my junior season got taken as a result of COVID, there wasn’t really a chance for me to get scouted by any colleges,” she said.
“I always had the military in the back of my mind and I come from a small military family, so I thought it was the best option. I did a lot of research on every branch of the military and talked to a lot of recruiters from every branch. I made a final decision that the U.S. Air Force would be the best fit for me and my future.”
After the paperwork was officially signed, the players took photos and conducted media interviews, toured the Reds Hall of Fame, watched batting practice from behind the Reds’ dugout, participated in a pregame ceremony and watched the Reds vs. Brewers game in the Nor-Com Super Suite. It was a special day for both the RBI members and those who helped them get to this point.
“This day means pretty much everything to my family,” Denison University commit Ryan Dawson said. “Over the last four or five years, today has been the goal. So just being here and having this opportunity is everything.”
Longtime RBI leader and current La Salle High School varsity baseball head coach, Roosevelt Barnes, serves as the primary recruiter and college matchmaker. He has strengthened the connections with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which led to five of this year’s class attending HBCU schools. Following the event, Barnes heard from one of the parents, who was proud that his son was becoming the first from his family to attend college.
“It brought me to tears,” Barnes said. “I’m encouraged all the more to keep pressing on.”
- Harrison Barnes (Sycamore High School) -- Tuskegee University
- Kameron Boggs (Clark Montessori) -- Clark State Community College
- Javen Curtis (Walnut Hills High School) -- Clark Atlanta University
- Ryan Dace Jr. (Finneytown High School) -- Miami University Hamilton
- Nijel Davis (Moeller High School) -- Morehouse College
- Ryan Dawson (La Salle High School) -- Denison University
- Elijah Ferguson (Mount Auburn Prep Academy) -- Clark Atlanta University
- Trevor Fisher (Talawanda High School) -- University of Northwestern Ohio
- Cole Francis (Walnut Hills High School) -- Marietta University
- Tarrus Garrett Jr. (Kings High School) -- Wittenberg University
- Quinton Hall (Vandalia Butler High School) -- Eastern Kentucky University
- Bobby Kelly (Purcell Marian High School) -- Benedict College
- Charlie Smith (La Salle High School) -- Elmhurst University
- Brianna Tharps (Highlands High School) -- United States Air Force
- Ethan Weimer (Lawrenceburg High School) -- Indiana University Southeast