Junior Giants hits home run for local baseball fans

Hollister Police Chief David Westrick has been centrally involved in the local program.

Two years ago, Hollister’s Police Chief David Westrick figured it would be a natural fit for the San Benito County Police Activities League and the city to offer a comprehensive program to enrich the lives of kids through Junior Giants, the flagship program of the San Francisco Giants Community Fund.
Junior Giants is a free, non-competitive baseball program for boys and girls ages 5 to 18 years old. The purpose of the Junior Giants program—implemented in San Benito County last year with great results—is to educate kids on a number of life issues, providing them with an alternative to drugs, gangs and crime.
“Last year was a huge success,” Westrick said. “We thought we would have 200 to 225 (people) registering, but the number quickly went up to 530 plus. I would expect it (the numbers) to grow quite a bit, maybe 10, 20 percent this year.”
Numbers aside, Westrick probably speaks for the rest of the community when he said the value of seeing a kid smile trumps everything. Apparently, the Junior Giants program has brought joy and education to hundreds of cities in California, Nevada and Oregon, with Hollister just being the latest example.
Westrick praised the people in the community for supporting the program, along with Hollister City Manager Bill Avera and the city council for “being all on board.” The Junior Giants Community Fund provides all of the uniforms, equipment and training necessary to run a league.
But members of the community play a vital role as well; for example, every team has a coach and a team parent. That means there were 68 volunteers last year helping the league run as efficiently as possible. No score is taken during the games, but kids learn plenty of life lessons.
What’s neat about the Junior Giants program is it focuses on certain core values—confidence, integrity, leadership and teamwork—while offering programs in education, health and violence prevention. During different parts of the season—which starts on June 25, with each team playing one to two games a week for two months—there is a focused theme.
During the literacy education theme of the season last year, the San Benito County Library would bring its mobile library to the site of the games, held at R.O. Hardin Elementary School. This made it easy for kids to check out books.
Coaches and team parents usually implement a different theme each week. Last year, kids who completed the task of reading 100 pages received prizes such as a backpack, sweatbands, posters, bobbleheads and different memorabilia. More important, kids are encouraged to read, eat healthy and not get involved with the wrong crowd.
“If the only thing that happens is a kid learns to love to read or learns that drinking a lot of sugary drinks is a poor choice, I’ll stamp that as a success,” Westrick said.
Everyone who takes part in the program also gets to go to a Giants game and receives a tour of AT&T Park. When it comes to the Junior Giants program, it literally is a community effort. The program wouldn’t be possible without the help of the countless parents who volunteer their time to be a coach or team parent.
“The cool thing is the Junior Giants pay the fees for them (coaches and team parents) to take training through the Positive Coaching Alliance,” Westrick said.
In getting kids involved at such an early age, the Junior Giants program serves as a positive yet aggressive way of steering them down a positive path in life.
“This is pro-active in trying to get kids something to do and fall in love with,” Westrick said. “Rather than make choices down the road that might be negative, any kid in the county can be a part of this. I’m a big believer that if you give a kid an activity they fall in love with, there’s a good chance it will prevent them from making some bad choices down the road. It can be a great crime prevention tool. I’m not going to sit here and say that Junior Giants is the end all, be all (to preventing teens from going down the wrong path), but it’s one thing we didn’t have before to give kids an opportunity to do something productive. In the end, it’s all about giving these kids opportunity and access.”
In addition to Junior Giants, Hollister offered another sports program last year that proved to be a smashing success: the United States Tennis Association NorCal HITS program.
“It’s really the same program as the Junior Giants, only it’s tennis,” Westrick said. “We had 10 classes last year and still had people on the wait list.”
In the future, Westrick envisions the county being able to offer similar junior programs for other sports, including basketball, hockey and lacrosse.
NOTES: Online registration for Junior Giants starts on March 4 at jrgiants.org. There is also walk-in registration on March 19 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Hollister Community Center on 300 West Street. All registration must be completed by May 27. Practice starts on June 13, with the games starting on June 25 at R.O. Hardin Elementary School. T-ball games are played at Dunne Park and softball at R.O. Hardin.

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