Currently, our country is mired in a toxic atmosphere of racial discord over negative symbolism. This has fueled a climate of separation and divisiveness. However, one organization is a model of inclusion that exemplifies what our country should be, and uses softball to do it.
A group of African-American coaches in Prince George’s County, Maryland, is leading a softball organization composed of athletes of multiple ethnicities. These coaches working together for a common goal — to not only develop winning teams — but also introduce the game of travel fastpitch softball to the youth of Prince George’s County. Created in 2009 by Nelson Grillo, the Bowie Blue Jays softball organization is presently composed of four travel teams and a local high school team with athletes ranging from 14U thru 18U, including a college showcase team. This fall, the Bowie Blue Jays also has plans to expand its organization with a 12U team.
The Bowie Blue Jays organization is currently led by Commissioner Julian Brown; Vice-President and Head Coach Ray Wynter; Director of Operations Tony Chapple; and coaches Keith Hutchins, Shurn Scatliffe and Tony Johnson. Mr. Grillo initially began coaching under the Bowie Boys & Girls Club rec program and was seeking stiffer travel competition. Since there were no travel softball teams in the immediate area or in Prince George’s County he launched the Bowie Blue Jays Softball organization.
Originally beginning with a very young 12U team, the Bowie Blue Jays has grown in leaps and bounds over the last decade to include as many as six teams. The inaugural team went winless in its first travel season, however with hard work by the coaching staff and a strong winter training program, Bowie Blue Jays organization has greatly improved and eventually went on to earn multiple Maryland State Championships. As their success continues, the organization now contends in prestigious National championship tournaments and college showcases throughout the Mid-Atlantic area, Georgia and Florida. The Bowie Blue Jays often are the only team with a majority of athletes being people of color. Their high level of play, number of talented athletes with solid academic achievements have attracted the attention of countless college recruiters. Each year the Bowie Blue Jays has a number of athletes go on to earn scholarships to play in college.
When asked about coaching female athletes, Coach Ray Wynter answered, “the effectiveness to coach female athletes is through our ability to relate to the player. Female athletes have to feel that you care about them personally, and have great a connection with them beyond the game of softball. We understand that male athletes will simply just do what you ask, however females ask more questions, and they need to understand what you’re asking them to do. Females athletes need to “trust,” their coach and this is based on receiving adequate information.”
Not only does the organization carry the mantra of an African American organization, but because fastpitch softball is not as popular as basketball in Prince George’s County, Maryland which has been called the “richest” black-majority county in the country, the Bowie Blue Jays represent the sport by being the only travel team in the county. Additionally, they may be the only predominantly African American run organization on the East Coast. Even though the organization has not dealt directly with any racial issues, as Wynter says, “we are challenging the stereotypes that suggest African Americans athletes cannot play the sport of softball at the highest levels.”
Moving forward, there are tremendous opportunities to earn college scholarships in softball. The Blue Jays provides their athletes with numerous resources, which help to facilitate the recruitment process. Outside of participating in college showcase tournaments, they provide athletes with skill videos, profile resumes, recommendation letters, follow-up calls to coaches and recruiters among other services.
In the community, the Bowie Blue Jays are extremely active in growing the sport. They host State championships, softball clinics and winter indoor elite camps to introduce the sport to younger athletes. And with Mo’ne Davis of Little League baseball fame, signing to play softball at Hampton University, more visibility of the sport in the African American community is happening. As an example, the Bowie Blue Jays participates in the Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities (RBI) program, sponsored by the Washington Nationals. The MLB/RBI summer softball league enables young ladies the opportunity to learn and play fastpitch softball in a supportive environment which fosters life skills and character development. Each season Bowie Blue Jays organization represent Prince George’s County in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournaments. But most importantly they encourage female athletes to excel in academics, extracurricular activities, community service, and overall character. (For more information about the Bowie Blue Jays or to help sponsor this 501(c) (3) non-profit organization please visit their website at www.bowiebluejays.org).
The Bowie Blue Jays are members of the Prince George’s County based, Youth Scholastic Coalition.