A historically thriving park, in a predominately African-American community, had fallen into disrepair, leaving nearby youth without recreational opportunities.
McAdams Park rests in the heart of Wichita’s African-American community and during the time of racial segregation, served as a destination for racial minorities to swim, golf, and play baseball. Fast forward to 2013 and McAdams’ aging baseball fields had fallen into disrepair and the swimming pool, tennis courts and basketball courts were noticeably attracting fewer and fewer local youth.
A handful of community leaders convened to discuss returning McAdams Park to its glory days. The plan focused on reintroducing inner-city youth to baseball. Although attendance at the first meeting was sparse, those in attendance steadfastly agreed that Wichita would benefit from an organized program designed specifically for inner city youth to play baseball in their neighborhood and avoid the travel and other challenges of playing at bustling suburban fields. The leaders committed to developing a program. They organized as a non-profit, established a board of directors, recruited volunteers, and formed League 42, named in honor of baseball great Jackie Robinson, who wore the number 42 on his jersey.
Today, League 42 is a youth baseball organization that introduces inner city youth to more than baseball. It also provides structure and support through mentoring and education opportunities. The league serves players ages 5-14 who primarily reside from low-income communities. Many of the youth enroll in the league having never played organized baseball. League registration is only $30 a family, keeping expenses manageable for families. The fee provides each player with a full uniform, baseball glove and other necessary equipment.
Starting with the restaurant meeting, league leaders took only nine months to establish teams and play games.
Additionally, the league will soon add an indoor facility that will feature a practice area and a learning center. The learning center will emphasize reading and math. League 42 Coach Alvin Richard said:
“We need to help each other’s children strive to be better. For school, you can come here and get help with reading and math and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. People struggle, kids struggle and we’re here to help.”
Founder Bob Lutz said League 42 would continue to have a mission beyond baseball as its growth supports ongoing revitalization of McAdams Park and building a new swimming pool. There are efforts to improve the park’s football field, named after hometown hero and hall of famer Barry Sanders. The park’s improvements are the result of a unique public-private effort serving youth.
“We want them to find a path to success in their individual lives,” he said, “When they stray off that path, we want to do what little we can to help them find the right path again.”
The inaugural season included nearly 220 kids and 16 teams in four age groups. Participation numbers exceeded optimistic expectations by nearly 50 percent. In fewer than five years, thanks to growing support, word of mouth and generous volunteers and donors, League 42 has grown to more than 600 players and 50 teams.
In 2018, the City of Wichita increased its support of McAdams Park by investing $1.1 million in renovating the baseball diamonds, installing new lighting, constructing a concession stand and upgrading rest areas, as well as adding a batting cage. Recently, when the league’s equipment storage facility was burglarized and robbed of nearly 200 bats and other gear, League 42’s 2019 season seemed in jeopardy – until more than 100 people attended a rally at the park to donate baseball equipment.
Recognizing that organized sports can be a vehicle to staying on the right path, League 42 strives to make a positive impact and provide potential memorable experiences. Players attend clinics led by some of Wichita’s local college and professional baseball standouts. In addition to on-the-field activities, youth participate in movie days, bowling events, and even take trips to Kansas City Royals games. They also visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. Last summer, players received a surprise visit from Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson.
Park and Recreation Director, City of Wichita