Dodger legends answer questions for a La Tijera Elementary School student. Photo by Jason Lewis
The former players talked to the students about the importance of working hard on the field and in the classroom.
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
The Los Angeles Dodgers 10th Annual Community Caravan, “Pitching in the Community,” stopped by La Tijera Elementary School in Inglewood to speak to an assembly of eager children.
As the children wore Dodgers hats provided by the Major League ball club, Dodger greats Al “The Bull” Ferrara, “Sweet” Lou Johnson, Lee Lacy, Kenny Landreaux, Joe Moeller, Dennis Powell, Derrel Thomas and Steve Yeager spoke to the children about the importance of education and working hard to reach goals.
These types of events are special to Johnson, who played for the Dodgers from 1965-67. During his younger days he says that black athletes did not get to talk to audiences like this. He has a lot of knowledge to pass on to these young students, which he was unable to do in the distant past.
“To be able to instill into these kids what we learned, it’s just amazing,” Johnson said.
Johnson was a high school basketball star in Lexington, Kentucky, back in the early 1950s. He dreamed about playing at the University of Kentucky under legendary coach Adolph Rupp. But at that time the Southeastern Conference (SEC) was not recruiting black players and some colleges in that conference were not even admitting black students.
Basketball at the time was not much of an option for many black players. As Jackie Robinson did a few years earlier, Johnson switched to baseball full time because there were more opportunities. Robinson was a better football, basketball, and track athlete while at UCLA, but the Negro baseball league allowed him to continue his athletic career.
For Johnson, being able to speak to children, such as the ones at La Tijera Elementary School, is of great importance to him and the students because he wants to encourage them to work hard to obtain their dreams.
The Dodgers partnered with Playworks for this event. Playworks’ mission is to improve the health and well-being of children by increasing opportunities for safe, meaningful play by providing as much as 30-45 minutes of daily physical activity to children throughout the school day. Playworks’ focuses on recess time, leadership development, class game time, interscholastic/developmental sports leagues and out-of-school time programs.
A number of the students at La Tijera Elementary School, and a number of the Dodger legends on hand are African American, so Robinson, who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947, was a topic at the assembly. The players let the students know that without hard work in the classroom, they will not excel in any aspect of life, especially sports.
“This isn’t just about baseball,” Johnson said. “Jackie was a scholar. His intelligence allowed him to do the things that he did.”
The students were able to ask the Dodger legends questions about their experiences as a Major League ballplayer, and the legends were more than happy to give their time to the children.