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UC, Reds: Heroes who make a difference

The Cincinnati Reds and UC give local high school ballplayers a leg up on success, both on and off the field

Local high school ballplayers got a sneak peek into life as future college athletes, scholars and leaders at the University of Cincinnati, during “Home Base,” a summer camp for students who play for their high school baseball or softball teams. The week was capped off at a banquet with Cincinnati Reds president and chief operating officer Phil Castellini at the Great American Ball Park.

In conjunction with the Cincinnati Reds and Cincinnati Reds Community Fund, UC played host to 49 high school baseball and softball players primarily from Cincinnati Public Schools for five days this summer as part of the second consecutive “Home Base” camp. While experiencing life as a college student by day, the students honed their athletic chops at the P&G MLB Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy by night. 

“Home Base focuses on a wide range of experiences such as ACT college test prep classes, leadership training and so much more,” said Kathie Maynard, UC associate dean for education innovations and community partnerships, after last year’s inaugural camp. 

“What makes this program special is how it develops the students’ mind, body and soul. Too often, programs will focus on individual skills training such as just sports or academics or only on social, emotional learning. But this program really blends all of those, and the diversity within the programming allows us to address the needs of the students holistically.”

The program’s positive urban impact aligns with the university's strategic plan, Next Lives Here. In an effort to significantly increase the number of UC graduates from the Cincinnati Public Schools, UC continues to enhance pipeline programs, mentoring innovative research and academic support services.

UC's Don Wittrock leans over a table of students as he holds a styrofoam cube.

Don Wittrock, UC community engagement program coordinator, worked with Home Base students on an engineering car safety project. Students designed insulation on soapbox derby cars to protect eggs from cracking open upon impact. photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services

And to help the students exceed further than they can imagine, each participant is provided with a mentor to help them.

Students sit in a UC classroom during a dress for success program.

As part of UC's Home Base ettiquette and life skills training, students learn to dress for success.

“I think the mission of the Reds Youth Academy really coincides with Home Base, and I think this program itself, structure-wise, is really transferable to football, basketball or anything else,” said program mentor Taylor Brown. “It’s much more significant than just reviving baseball in inner cities. With Home Base, it’s the life prep and character-building-type skills. 

“They learn so many things that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to, so I think it really helps to prepare for the next step as a high school student transitioning to adult life.”

Spending their nights on campus and sleeping in residence halls gave the Home Base campers a lot to chat about as they ate in campus dining halls and walked to classes each day. 

Throughout the week, the college hopefuls engaged in ACT prep and e-media classes, as well as chemistry and engineering activities taught by university professors and UC Communiversity instructors.

High school students observe chemistry projects in a UC chemistry lab.

Home Base students participated in chemistry lab projects while living on UC's campus for five days.

The players also participated in daily yoga and mindfulness training in UC’s African American Cultural and Resource Center to help develop better long-term control and focus on their academics. By late afternoon, the students were shuttled each day to the Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy on East Seymour Avenue.

“This experience is more than just baseball, it’s about learning to talk to people and learning life skills and how to be a leader,” says Withrow High School student Ke'juan McDaniel-Watts. “You get the whole life experience here.”

Several high school students lay on mats during a yoga class at UC.

As part of the Home Base camp activities, high school athletes enjoyed daily yoga and mindfulness classes in UC's African American Cultural and Resource Center.


UC colleges and departments:

The above provided hands-on experiences with their identified area of academic interest. Ten resident mentors and several UC student ambassadors also served as on-campus chaperones. 

  • UC alum Gerald Owens facilitated the professional attire seminar

  • UC Communiversity, provided instructors for ACT test preparation classes 

Major League Baseball:

These baseball organizations provided on-the-field baseball training, Home Base funding, instructors for mindfulness yoga, business etiquette and other self-improvement classes.

Girls softball players gather together during UC's 2019 Home Base camp.

2019 Home Base girls' softball team at the Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy.

2019 Home Base boy's baseball team at the Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy.

2019 Home Base boys' baseball team at the Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy.

As part of the complete experience, students sharpened their athletic skills through intensive training at the Reds Youth Academy from Reds personnel including retired players Tom Browning, Dmitri Young and Billy Hatcher. Women benefited from such softball greats as Crystl Bustos, A.J. Andrews and Amanda “AK” Kamekona

Largely the brainchild of former Red Joe Morgan of the Big Red Machine, the academy was designed to facilitate the Reds’ RBI program. RBI offers area boys and girls ages 7 to 18 the opportunity to participate in baseball and softball clinics and character development programming and even academic tutoring and vocational training, all free of charge. 

Within the 33,000-square-foot indoor facility, there is a turf field, batting cages, pitching tunnels, a weight room and classrooms for students to receive tutoring. Outdoors, the academy has four fields, including a small stadium with a press box.

High school pitcher throws a baseball from a pitching mound.

Home Base athletes sharpen their fastpitch skills at the Reds Youth Academy.

While traveling along Joe Morgan Way, the main road that leads into the academy, students took in the extraordinary display honoring legends of the past featuring a statue of Chuck Harmon who became the Reds’ first African American player in 1954, as well as plaques of many Negro League players and former Reds, including Hall of Famers Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey Jr.

Because of Morgan’s inspiration, the first MLB Urban Youth Academy began in California in 2006, followed by several more throughout the south. The academy in Cincinnati was the first built in a northern city with more than $2 million donated toward the $7 million total raised by the Reds and corporate sponsor Procter & Gamble.

Hunter Greene, the Cincinnati Reds first draft pick in 2017 (No. 2 overall) was an alumnus from the RBI program in California. And in the same year, R.J. Barnes became the first Reds Youth Academy alum and RBI player to get drafted when the Reds selected him in the 34th round.

Phil Castellini, Reds CEO, speaks in front of a crowd at GABP.

Cincinnati Reds chief operating officer Phil Castellini inspires students toward future success at the 2019 Home Base camp banquet at Great American Ball Park.

Home Base camp added etiquette classes, instruction on how to change a tire and vehicle maintenance.

“But it’s the partnership with the University of Cincinnati that really helps the Home Base program change students’ lives,” says Ashley Felts, UC College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services special programs/projects coordinator. “Students not only develop baseball and softball skills, but the campus experiences help them get well-positioned for what awaits them at the next level in their lives.” 


To learn more:


Featured image at top: As part of the second UC Home Base camp, CPS high school students gather together after enjoying baseball and softball training at the Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy. photo/courtesy of Cincinnati Reds

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Several high school baseball players shake hands after a game.

High school students learn more than baseball at UC's Home Base camp. Among academics and athletics, students learn etiquette and behavior skills they will take with them for life.