Harlem Little Leaguers Take the World's Center Field
by Frederick B. Hudson
The Little League player smacked a home run that placed his team ahead. As
he rounded the bases he waved his hands in celebration, as he passed third he
did a little dance. As he got closer to home plate, he straddled the baseline
in as he approached the bag. One columnist in the player's home town of New
York City questioned: "Was this a baseball game or "Soul Train?"
But the manager of the Harlem Little League, Morris McWilliams, was not
amused by the player's antics. He told the player that good sportsmanship
involves not rubbing winning in anyone's face. "When you hit a home run, you
run the bases graciously."
Although McWilliams is aware of young athletes' fascination with professional
sports stars' personal stylistic trademarks when they play the games of
their passions, he is concerned with the moral substance of the athletic
experience for youth.
He is obviously doing something right. His Harlem team progressed through the
tournament structure of U.S. Little League with its more than seven thousand
teams to only be eliminated from competition after being judged as of the
four best teams in the United States.
After winning New York City, state, and Mid-Atlantic titles this summer the
team showed strong hitting and superb fielding that took them and New York
City fans on a magic carpet ride that only ended on August 23 when they were
eliminated in the Little League founding city of Williamsport, Pennsylvania
by a Worchester Massachusetts team.
The Harlem teams exploits captured the imaginations of the black community
and the entire New York City area-Mayor Mike Bloomberg attended one of the
elimination games with his girlfriend along with hundreds of New York City
residents who chartered buses to watch the team. After their elimination the
team was honored in ceremonies at City Hall and at historic Marcus Garvey
Park in Harlem,
Photo courtesy of New York Newsday
McWilliams, a former Little League player himself in his home town of
Baltimore, Maryland, had the pleasure and challenge of watching his own son
Julian play on the historic team. He got involved in the youth league in 1992
when Julian's older brother Drew joined the Little League and his dad became
a parent coach. When the head coach passed away two years later, McWilliams
took over as manager of the team.
The winning team has brought him great satisfaction away from the basepaths
since many of the youngsters come from single parent homes and he has had an
opportunity to influence their lives in many other areas. One member of the
team was able to obtain a full scholarship to a prestigious private school
through the efforts of the McWilliams family.
One of McWilliams' favorite mantas is "We are not here to make Big-league
ballplayers-we are here to make big league citizens." He values his
opportunity to become a rule model in the lives of his players. He assigns
much of his team's success to their many years of playing together and
learning valuable lessons in team-building.
McWilliams learned much from his own father about integrity-a lesson that
came in handy when his team's legitimacy was challenged by some protests
that some of the players lived outside the boundaries of the designated
boundaries. After examination of the players' documentation all players were
found eligible. McWilliams says that the mid-tournament controversy
reinforced a lesson he learned from his own father: don't live your life in a
fashion that requires looking over your shoulder-be honest.
A journalism graduate of the University of Maryland, McWilliams has had a
diverse career in media sales in radio and television. He is presently vice
president of sales for PMG Media. He feels that black professionals should
take time to give back to their communities. But he doesn't see it as a
sacrifice since he gets "the warm fuzzies of life just by helping one child."
Photo courtesy of Little League of
"One youngster in particular came in a fighter. He has become a child who
understands that life is about being part of a team He is a very, very good
laid back kid . I was very tolerant and understanding of him. People
suggested that he was my favorite but I took the road that I felt would help
turn his life around. He was just missing a level of self-esteem since he
was struggling in school but the whole baseball experience has given him a
lot more confidence."
"One thing this whole experience has done for all of us is that it has given
us a chance to highlight our children of color to the world. To let them see
that we are good citizens-well spoken, articulate. That our children are
about more things than just gang-banging.
That we put out a positive image. As I watched my children handle the media,
as I watched them play the game with a certain style and swagger, I think it
spoke volumes about our community and our children who are the future. The
world got a chance to see seven black and seven Latino youths capture the
hearts and souls of the minority community across America."