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Local Ballplayers Get a Pat on the Back
Editor's Note: Gabriel Aikens is a NC Central University student who is working this summer as an intern with Duke's Office of News and Communications
Durham, NC - On a hot summer day, a happy scene in Durham: Parents fill the stands of a small baseball field providing encouragement and cheers to the teenage players in the Long Ball Program League.
Apart from the parents and family members, one woman seems to be everywhere: Talking with the parents, cheering both teams, frying seafood at the concession stand, checking in with the coaches, even seeking out newcomers and answering any question they might have about the program.
The woman is Duke employee Pat Nobles, the guiding force behind the league that gives local youths a chance to play and learn that had been missing in Durham. "It gives these young men a place to release their energy in a positive way, with a special focus on academics and respect," Nobles says.
"Often young athletes think they can make it off just playing the sport without improving their education, and that has to change."
The need for the program occurred in 2009 when an earlier Durham league for ages 13-15 was cancelled. Nobles was an assistant coach with the league, in which her son played. Wanting a positive activity for her son and other boys, the idea for Long Ball was formed.
After contacting Pat O'Conner, CEO and president of Minor League Baseball, the league began play in May 2010 at the Durham Athletic Park under Minor League Charities. O'Conner agreed to support Nobles and the league if the players were in school furthering their education.
"At one time, two of our current players weren't allowed to play until they went back to school and applied themselves," says Nobles, who works with the Duke Community Service Center. "We use that like leverage in a way; they must be working hard in school or they can't play."
Not only is education a requirement, but appropriate dress and decorum is expected as well. "We have a sign that says no sagging pants, no taunting and no profanity," says Nobles. "That goes for the players and the people who attend the games. If you don't comply then you can't stay."
Nobles was recently featured in WRAL's "Hometown Spotlight" during their sports segment, but she's not one to focus on her own glory.
"My main focus was to give these young men something to do. It's a blessing to see what this program has done."
This Saturday at the Durham Athletic Park, the Long Ball players will compete against two teams from Rocky Mount, NC at noon and 2:30pm. Their championship games take place July 21st at 6 p.m., same place. Admission to all games is free.
Pictured below: Scrappers' Tyrek Stephens pitches in a win over the Timber Rattlers. Photo by Pat Nobles.
© 2013 Office of News & Communications
615 Chapel Drive, Box 90563, Durham, NC 27708-0563
(919) 684-2823; After-hours phone (for reporters on deadline): (919) 812-6603