Junior Giants: 20 Years of Impact
Since 1994, the Junior Giants, the flagship program of the Giants Community Fund, has offered a free, non-competitive and innovative baseball program for boys and girls ages 5-18 years old. The program now reaches 21,000 kids in 90 communities.
In the 20 years since being established, the Junior Giants Program has:
Through the 20 for 20 Series, we are proud to share stories of the kids, coaches, families and communities that have helped to build this program.
Ricky has been a public school teacher for more than 10 years and coached t-ball leagues in Suisun City before being introduced to Junior Giants in 2009. Ricky is a very loyal and dedicated coach who arrives early to each practice and game, and cheers his players on even when there is a dropped catch, off-throw or missed pitch.
Ricky values every minute of coaching. He is very proud to have been able to teach so many children the love of the game over the past six years, and to have created many cherished memories while doing so. His greatest memory was in his third year with his Junior Giants league. He was coaching a young lady who had never played baseball before and had gone all season without a hit. She went to bat in the last game of the season full of excitement and energy and determined to get a hit. Sure enough, she got a base hit, and instead of running to first base as she should have done, she headed straight to Ricky, smiling and giving him a big, proud hug.
Ricky has built his Junior Giants career on memories such as these and cherishes each proud moment he gets to share with his players, on or off the field. This year, Ricky was recognized as the Junior Giants Willie Mac Award coach winner in Suisun City because he continually creates a fun and positive learning environment for his players.
Stephanie Lamb has been a dedicated member of the Feather River league for the past five years, and continues to use the lessons she's learned from the program in all aspects of her life. Aside from being an excellent student at school and a dynamic player on the field, Stephanie also acts as a role model for her teammates by inspiring them at practices and in games, never hesitating to help younger players remember the importance of the Four Bases of Character Development. As a result of her incredible sportsmanship, Stephanie received the Willie Mac Award in 2014.
Stephanie has excelled in the league, growing into a strong player alongside her teammates, and her passion for the game of baseball is clear. She hustles on and off the field in between innings and takes the outfield positions during batting practice, knowing that everyone will get a chance to bat. When Stephanie suffered an off the field injury that resulted in double vision and was restricted from playing, she remained unbelievably optimistic, never missing a practice or game and continued to root on her teammates from the dugout.
"Stephanie utilizes every second to help her teammates when possible," says Nina Sinor, Commissioner for the Feather River league. "She also encourages her teammates to read and will even read out loud to them after practice so that they can meet their reading goals. She truly is a deserving Junior Giant and with her five years of dedication to the program there is no one more deserving (of the Willie Mac Award in our league)."
Michael Pritchard has played many important roles in the San Francisco Bay Area community. He is a nationally acclaimed speaker on the topics of diversity, bullying and conflict resolution. He is also a well-known stand-up comedian and was a close friend to the late Robin Williams. But for more than 30 years, despite his laundry list of commitments and accomplishments in the Bay Area community, Michael has played a significant role in the San Francisco Giants community. Michael currently serves on the Giants Community Fund's Advisory Board and is a compelling speaker at Junior Giants events, speaking to youth about violence prevention and bullying, and inspiring participants to create stronger and safer communities.
Michael is a devoted Giants fan, but his reason for getting involved with the Junior Giants program when it first started in 1994 goes far beyond his passion for the game. He is quick to discuss how the Junior Giants program has improved community life in the Bay Area, specifically citing a significant decrease in crime since the program's inception. "I've been in law enforcement for 46 years," he notes, "and there's no doubt in my mind that we have lowered the crime rate in every single town we've been in. When we give something positive for the kids to do, they're not doing something negative .that's all kids are looking for, someone who loves and cares for them."
One of Michael's fondest memories from his 21 years of involvement with the Junior Giants is from his time as a coach, when one of his players knocked the ball out of the park. Prior to this game, his player had really started to lose confidence, having gone 11 games without a single hit. As the boy made his way from second to third base after his big hit, Michael noticed that he was crying, and he looked up into the stands for the player's father. "He came to every single game and had never seen his son get a hit," Michael recalls. "So when I looked at him and he looked at me I'll remember that look. Both of us will never forget that moment as long as we live. That's what coaching is all about. Never quit one minute before the miracle happens, because baseball is magic."
In 2010, Michael was inducted into the Junior Giants Hall of Fame for going above and beyond his call of duty, as he has made a significant impact on not only the players, coaches and families, but all those who are involved with the program. Outside of the Junior Giants, Michael also currently serves as a mentor to The Walking Point Foundation, a program that helps veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Chris Ochoa and his ten-year-old daughter, Cassandra, have been proud members of the Sunnyvale Junior Giants league since its inception in 2012, but by no means were they strangers to the game of baseball before joining the program. Chris was born and raised a Giants fan and understands the positive impact that participating in recreational sports has had on his life. Therefore, once Cassie was old enough he quickly signed her up for the Sunnyvale Little League baseball program, and jumped into the role of assistant coach. After learning more about the Junior Giants program, Chris decided to enroll in the local league, signing up as head coach for Cassie's team. They have spent two memory filled years with the Junior Giants program and both were selected as a Junior Giants Willie Mac Award winner for their league.
As a Junior Giants coach, Chris' proudest achievement has been establishing strong relationships with his players, many of whom had never played baseball or received a glove prior to joining his team. One of Chris' favorite parts of the Junior Giants program is the emphasis placed on learning, with baseball as the anchor, as well as the opportunity to give his players purpose, direction and something to look forward to every season.
A great example of this involves one of his players who, at the start of the season, was soft spoken, quiet and kept to himself. "I took him under my wing," Chris said. "He had never played baseball before either. Through the season, our relationship developed and he started becoming more and more excited to come to practice. By the end he became a really good player and now whenever I see him at school, he runs up to me and yells, 'Hi, Coach!'. At the team picnic his grandmother thanked me for taking time with her grandson, and the experience really opened up my eyes to what this program means for other families in the community."
Chris plans on being involved in the program for an extended period of time, hoping to keep it a tradition in his family. Laughing, Chris says, "My 17-year-old son was the assistant coach for my youngest daughter's team. Even after my kids grow up and grow out of playing, I would like to continue this legacy."
Erik has been involved with Junior Giants for more than 15 years, instructing hundreds of volunteer coaches each year through Junior Giants Coaches Clinics. During his time he has witnessed firsthand the tremendous amount of growth that has taken place within the program, watching it spread throughout California to the borders of Nevada and Oregon. It was the mission of the program itself - to give at-risk kids a meaningful alternative to drugs, gangs and crime through the game of baseball - that immediately hooked Erik and made him jump at the opportunity to act as a positive example and mentor for the youth in the community.
Erik's favorite part of Junior Giants is watching the program thrive. It's a huge accomplishment to see the parents of players become increasingly more involved in the lives of their children in a fun and interactive way. While the Junior Giants program has taught Erik a multitude of lessons over the years, his biggest takeaway has been to practice patience with the youth: " they are the future and we need to reach out and help them as much as we can." When asked to recall his greatest memory, Erik states that it's simply being involved in the program. It is seeing people smile and seeing people care about one another that keeps him coming back after year.
If Erik could tell others about the program, particularly coaches looking to volunteer, he would say, "Get involved. You have a great support unit that will help teach others. Even if you do not know anything about baseball, volunteer and help in any way to mentor a young person. It is the greatest reward and it is priceless. The more people we get involved, the more positive energy it creates to help build something that will last a lifetime."
Noah Jones has been the Commissioner for the Los Banos PAL Junior Giants League since 2001 and has served as a police officer with the Los Banos Police Department for more than 19 years. Since joining the league, Noah has seen it grow tremendously, nearly doubling the number of teams in the 8-10 and 11-13 age division.
Noah has collected many fond memories over his 13 years of involvement with the Junior Giants program. His favorites include joining the entire Los Banos community in singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" on Junior Giants Day in 2012, and winning the Buster Posey Baseball Field Makeover Contest. His proudest achievement has been witnessing the countless opportunities the program has provided the kids and their families in the Los Banos community. It is one of the only recreational programs in the area each year, and thus, plays a fundamental role in teaching kids about important life lessons-including the Four Bases of Character Development-through the game of baseball.
Of the program, Noah says, "I am a Giants fan because of my experience with Junior Giants baseball. In a world that revolves around finances, I think it's very important that everyone who wants to participate is able to."
When Aiden and Trinity Nguyen (age 6 and 10) moved to Hayward in early 2014 they were uncertain about starting their lives in an unfamiliar neighborhood and were hesitant to join a group program outside of school. In search of a wholesome summertime program, their mother, Maricel, decided to enroll the pair in the local Junior Giants league.
Less than a year later, the two feel more at home than ever, enjoying every element of the program. They share a passion for sports, have become enthusiastic about bullying prevention and the value of teamwork, and cherish the newfound relationships they've made as a result of being involved with the league.
Because Maricel works multiple jobs, often staffing the graveyard shift, Trinity takes pride in being a role model for her younger brother, Aiden, and keeps the Ngyuen family organized throughout the season - printing schedules and making to-do lists so her parents aren't overwhelmed. Of the league, Maricel says, "What the Junior Giants program is doing for the community is amazing and beautiful and truly gives back in the biggest way, especially to our children who are the future. The Junior Giants has done so many wonderful things for these children, including providing a sense of community and the willingness to say "Hi," to familiar faces. Both Aiden and Trinity are learning important life lessons, and the program has taught them how to be prepared for the fundamental skills they'll need in the future."
The Ngyuen family would specifically like to thank the coaches and volunteers of the Hayward Junior Giants league for welcoming her kids into what she likes to call the "Junior Giants family" and for all the hard work they put in to making the program exceed even their wildest expectations.
Lorry Greenberg has been a fixture in Bay Area youth sports for more than 30 years. Her resume is impressive, having logged seasons with San Bruno's tee-ball league, Joe DiMaggio league, a girls' softball league, South San Francisco Youth Baseball and the San Bruno Junior Giants (what Lorry calls the "BEST league EVER"). The 2014 season marks Lorry's 20th year with the Junior Giants and her commitment to promoting health and wellness to the boys and girls that come through the program has been unwavering.
One of Lorry's favorite parts of the Junior Giants program is that emphasis is placed on learning through baseball and not on teams and coaches winning trophies. A great example of this, and one of Lorry's favorite Junior Giants success stories, involves 2007 Harmon & Sue Burns Scholar, Nathan Madonich. Nathan embodies how learning the Four Bases of Character can truly change someone's life. When he attended various education seminars through the Giants Community Fund, Nathan and his fellow scholars were encouraged to explore colleges outside of California. This encouragement really resonated with Nathan and through personal research and support from his family and friends, he found a perfect fit for his higher education pursuits at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio. Nathan attributes a lot of his current success to the support he received as a Junior Giant, and said "Junior Giants changed my life!". He is now excelling in Botany Microbiology Genetics and Men's Cross Country running in Ohio. "That's what Junior Giants is all about," Lorry says. "Developing young baseball players into becoming productive, educated, healthy and compassionate future citizens!"
Angel Gonzalez has been with the Salinas PAL Junior Giants league for approximately 5 years and is currently a police officer with the Salinas Police Department, providing over 15 years of service. He took over as Junior Giants Commissioner 3 years ago, and under his leadership the league has grown from approximately 250 players to over 600. Surprisingly, Angel didn't grow up a Giants fan - he's actually a fan of the Giants' biggest rival, the Dodgers. However, Angel has been able to look past the rivalry and truly appreciates everything the Giants Community Fund does for the kids it serves and the community. Aside from being passionate about the Junior Giants program, Angel is a strong believer in the Four Bases of Character Development and has made it his personal goal and mission to garner 100 percent participation in the Round the Bases Reading program. He says, "I am very grateful for the guidance and help that I have received from our league representatives and Community Fund staff. I truly couldn't do this without all the coaches and parents who help with our league."
Receiving the Harmon and Sue Burns Scholarship motivated Julia Hoaglen to push himself academically to achieve his goal of attending college. As a Burns scholar, he lent his time to the Native American community, volunteering at the Indian Senior Center where he cooked, cleaned and helped organize fundraisers. As an anthropology major at Humboldt State University (class of 2016), Julian participates in the Indian Tribal and Educational Personnel Program, an academic support group on campus, and continues to volunteer at the Indian Senior Center in Ukiah when he returns to his hometown.
Emmett has been a proud member of both the Ukiah and Willits Junior Giants leagues since 2009, and has not missed a single game over the last five years. In 2013, Emmett received the Willie Mac Award for his incredible sportsmanship and was also chosen as an incoming Harmon and Sue Burns Scholar in 2014. You can always count on Emmett smiling and having a great time out on the field. "I'm very grateful for everything the Junior Giants program has done for me," Emmett says. "It's my goal to help the Ukiah league add a senior league next year to provide even more opportunities to the community." He is passionate about the game of baseball, looks forward to participating in the program each year, and is an avid Giants fan. When he's not practicing the Four Bases of Character Development and rooting on the Giants, Emmett volunteers in the Ukiah community for the Ukiah Friends of the Library. In his spare time he nurtures his love of the stage and takes acting classes with the Willits Young Actors Troupe and S.P.A.C.E. Performing Arts program in Ukiah.
In 2004, Corben Brooks was awarded with a Harmon and Sue Burns Scholarship while playing with the Mount Shasta league. Four years later, and three days into his senior year of high school, Corben broke his neck during a preseason football scrimmage. His injury resulted in quadriplegia and doctors told him he would have to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Faced with a seemingly impossible burden, but determined to overcome, Corben worked with the Junior Giants program and the Harmon and Sue Burns Scholarship fund to pay for physical therapy at Project Walk, and through an intensive program, recovered some motor function. It's been six years since his injury, and Corben has almost full use of his arms and partial use of his hands and fingers; although he is still required to use a wheelchair, he can now take steps with the appropriate assistance. Corben was recently accepted to the University of Southern California, and attributes his success and accomplishments to the Giants Community Fund. He says, "Had the Junior Giants program not been generous enough to allow me the ability to use my scholarship for physical recovery, I can say with honesty that I would not be where I am at today, both physically and in the pursuit of my education. Even in the face of a catastrophic injury, the Junior Giants program managed to change my life for better and set me on a path for success."
Kathy has been actively involved with the Junior Giants program since 1995, first as a coach with the Red Bluff Junior Giants, and now as the Commissioner for the Los Molinos league. She began the Los Molinos program in 2005 as a response to the lack of free activities for youth in the area. Under her leadership, the Los Molinos league has seen significant growth and has served over 1,100 children since its inception. Although an avid baseball fan, Kathy's reason for getting involved with the Junior Giants goes far beyond just her passion for the game. It was the chance to make a difference in a child's life that inspired her to join, and she has seen the community become deeply impacted in a number of ways. "How can it not?" she said, "When you build a program around those key principles and use the spectacular game of baseball as a vehicle to deliver the program, you're destined to succeed and you're destined to leave an impact on these children, which they can then take with them everywhere they go." In 2010, Kathy was inducted into the Junior Giants Hall of Fame for going above and beyond her call of duty, doing everything from prepping the fields for play, providing medals for the kids at the end of the season, and stressing the importance of character development. Kathy attributes the success of the program to the tools given to them by the Giants Community Fund, coupled with the hard work from her coaches and volunteers. Kathy enjoys every aspect of the Junior Giants program -- from seeing a Major League game for the first time, playing on the field at AT&T Park during the Junior Giants Festival, watching her players sing the National Anthem on Junior Giants Day, and having five recipients selected to be part of the Harmon & Sue Burns scholarship program.
Kieran has been a proud member of the Santa Cruz/Watsonville Junior Giants league for the past two years, and plans to continue to play for as long as he is allowed. Despite having just one hand, Kieran has excelled in the league and has grown into a strong player alongside his teammates. Kieran is not only a passionate baseball player, looking forward to the program each summer, but also a consummate team player. He was awarded the Willie Mac Award by his teammates in 2013 for best exemplifying the Junior Giants Four Bases of Character Development: Confidence, Integrity, Leadership and Teamwork. Kieran's leadership skills also run in the family - he recently mentored his older sister Jaden to a Willie Mac Award win this year, and his grandmother Colleen is actively involved as a repeat team parent. Of the league, Colleen says, "The Junior Giants has done so many wonderful things for these children - in learning to see the positive in life's sometimes tougher lessons, and teaching them how to properly deal with what is truly important." Together, Kieran's family is having the time of their lives with the program, sharing their contagious excitement and serving as positive role models for the entire Santa Cruz/Watsonville Junior Giants community. Off the field, Kieran enjoys skateboarding, karate, hip-hop dancing, dirt bike riding and swimming.
The Harmon and Sue Burns Scholarship not only provided Jannelle Watson the resources to help her get into college - it also turned her into a leader. Jannelle says the Junior Giants gave her the boost of confidence she needed to run for and win elected positions at University of California, Irvine. She excelled in leadership roles in the Black Student Union, Nigerian Student Association and mentored fellow students as a peer academic advisor and teaching assistant. After graduating with degrees in political science and education, Jannelle was selected as a White House intern and placed in the Office of the First Lady Michelle Obama in Washington, DC and selected as 2013/14 Executive Fellow through the Capital Fellows Program. Recently, Jannelle was hired as a Small Business Policy Analyst in Governor Jerry Brown's Office of Business and Economic Development where she will serve as an advocate for California's small business community.
Walt and Barbara have been involved with the San Jose PAL Junior Giants since 1994, offering an opportunity for both children and adults with special needs to participate in the Junior Giants program. Their son is special needs and has enjoyed the program for more than 20 years. The Velasquez family has known many of the San Jose PAL team members for most of their lives, and each season Barbara manages sign-ups for players as young as three and as old as 67. The friendly, non-competitive nature makes for fun times and a 90 percent player return rate. Walt is especially proud of the commitment he's received from all of his volunteers each year. Together, Walt and Barbara were inducted into the Junior Giants Hall of Fame in 2013 for their longstanding community commitment, love of the program and leadership.
Mike has been a fixture in the Mt. Shasta community, serving as the Mt. Shasta Recreation and Parks District Administrator for over 40 years. He began the Mt. Shasta Junior Giants League in 1995, and is currently celebrating his 20th year as commissioner. During his tenure, the league has thrived with steady growth and an average of 125 participants. The Mt. Shasta League has proudly supported five Harmon & Sue Burns Scholars. Mike is an avid Giants fan who shares his passion for the sport of baseball and commitment to the Junior Giants core program values through his lifelong dedication to community service.
After playing in the Morgan Hill Junior Giants League and receiving the Harmon and Sue Burns Scholarship, Cristina Avina went on to coach and motivate young players in the league, an experience that inspired her current career goals. As a student at University of Southern California (class of 2016), she is working toward becoming an occupational therapist specializing in animal-assisted therapy for children with emotional issues. She has also found time between classes to participate in Hermanas Unidads and Destino, while also volunteering with USC's Spirits in Action and Dreampower Horsemanship. She is currently serving as a Junior Giants Ambassador in the Salinas league. She often says that "being involved in all these activities has come to shape the person I am today and the person I will become because they all form a part of what I want to do in my future. It's kind of like a puzzle, all these programs and all the people in my life form a small puzzle piece of my life and am grateful to have every piece."