Blue Line

Pitching positivity: The story of London Police Service’s long-standing youth baseball league

November 24, 2023  By Chris Golder and Evan Harrison

Photo credit: Kattie Forbes, Corporate Communications, LPS

In the heart of a diverse and bustling city, a unique baseball league has quietly been making a difference over the past three decades. Organized and staffed by dedicated London Police Service (LPS) officers and civilian staff, and London Middlesex Housing staff, this league has become a symbol of hope, unity and opportunity for less privileged youth, aged eight to 12 years old, living in subsidized housing. With a mission to provide a safe space and nurturing environment for these young athletes, this baseball league has evolved in remarkable ways since its inception.

A noble beginning

The roots of the Rookie League trace back to a group of police officers who noticed a gap in organized sports opportunities for disadvantaged youth within their community. They recognized that sports could serve as a bridge to connect officers with local children, break down stereotypes and create positive role models in the community. Thus, they set out to establish a baseball league that would offer something more than just the chance to play ball.

The idea of police teaming up with community partners and kids from subsidized housing to play baseball started in the United States in 1985. The concept came to Canada in 1989 when the Metro Toronto Police partnered with the City of Toronto, the Toronto Blue Jays, Adidas and Metro Toronto Housing Corporation to found “Rookie League”, which provides a summer long baseball day camp for youth. Rookie League came to the Forest City in 1993 with the collaboration of the LPS, London Middlesex Housing Corporation (now London Middlesex Community Housing – LMCH), the City of London, McDonalds, Joe Kool’s and the Toronto Blue Jays. In 2008, the London Majors baseball club partnered with LPS, replacing the Toronto Blue Jays by providing coaching, guidance and pitchers for the games.

Photo credit: Kattie Forbes, Corporate Communications, LPS

Early years of growth

The league’s early years were marked by challenges and triumphs. Initially, the league operated on a shoestring budget, using donated equipment and local parks as their playing fields, and previous athletes. However, the LPS officers’ passion for the game and their dedication to the children they served propelled the league forward. Officers became returning coaches and mentors, teaching not only baseball skills but also life lessons about teamwork, discipline and respect.

Beyond the statistics, the true measure of success lies in the confidence, resilience and character instilled in the young minds that participate in the program.

As word spread about the league’s positive impact, community support began to pour in. Local businesses, philanthropic organizations, and even Major League Baseball teams recognized the value of their work and provided funding, equipment and facilities. With these resources, the league expanded its reach, allowing more kids to participate and benefit from the program. The league was comprised of four teams of 15 players, each filled with kids living in one of seven family complexes. In 2020, members from the London Police Community Services Unit worked hard to actively promote the program and emphasize inclusivity with the result being over 160 kids signing up for the program – a good “issue” to have. This expansion introduced many new diverse players to the league, including newcomers to Canada and more female athletes.

Photo credit: Kattie Forbes, Corporate Communications, LPS

Beyond baseball

Over the years, the league has grown to encompass much more than just baseball. The league’s police officers have continued to build trust within the community, breaking down barriers and fostering positive relationships between police and residents. Rookie League runs for six weeks—July through August—providing a fun and rewarding opportunity for everyone. An aspect that LPS is very proud of is that many coaches attend games and practices on their own time, often during their vacation, because they see the value of the program.

The program also leads a “Clean and Green” initiative, where once a week, participants head into a complex to lead kids through a proactive clean-up of the place where they live and play. This also provides an opportunity for “boots on the ground” community policing and relationship building for LPS officers.

Photo credit: Kattie Forbes, Corporate Communications, LPS

A lasting impact

The impact of this unique league can be seen in the countless success stories that have emerged from its participants. Former athletes have gone on to college, had successful careers, and some have even become employees with LPS.

One successful participant reached out during the league’s 25th season to let current coaches know just how valuable and influential the program was for him. This past participant works for the Edmonton Fire Department, and baseball is a major component in his life. He coaches youth in his community and participated in the World Police Fire Games for Edmonton Fire.

Beyond the statistics, the true measure of success lies in the confidence, resilience and character instilled in the young minds that participate in the program.

Photo credit: Kattie Forbes, Corporate Communications, LPS

A bright future

Now, as the league celebrates its 30th year, it stands as a testament to the power of sports to transform lives and communities. It serves as a model for other cities and organizations seeking to bridge gaps and create opportunities for youth who might otherwise be left behind.

The London Police-run youth baseball league has evolved from a humble beginning into a drive for positive change in its community. It has provided a beacon of hope and opportunity for less privileged youth, shaping their futures in ways that extend far beyond the baseball diamond. This league reminds LPS team members that, with dedication, passion and a shared vision, we can make a lasting impact on the lives of our children and the communities they call home.

Photo credit: Kattie Forbes, Corporate Communications, LPS

Author note: Rookie League is supported by community organizations such as Canadian Tire Jumpstart, Joes Kools Restaurant, Subway, YNCU and Commonwealth Coffee Café. The sponsors ensure that LPS can provide food and drinks for all participants – something that might be missing from their regular routines.

Cst. Chris Golder has been an officer with the London Police Service since 2005.  From 2017 to 2021, Golder was a School Resource Officer with the Community Services Unit (CSU) and an elementary School Resource Officer. During his time in the CSU, Golden was the coordinator for Rookie League Baseball.

Cst. Evan Harrison has been serving with the London Police Service since 2012. Harrison’s heart belongs to youth engagement and helping others, which led him to his role in the Community Services Unit. Harrison has been volunteering with Rookie League Baseball since his first year with the London Police Service and will continue to do so throughout the rest of his career.

Photo credit: Kattie Forbes, Corporate Communications, LPS

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