KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In the months immediately following the 2015 Royals World Series victory, the plans for the Urban Youth Academy were visualized and funded.
Now, the UYA is the baseball gem of Kansas City, training kids in baseball, softball, life skills and character development.
After only three years of operation, the Urban Youth Academy is fueling dreams and changing lives.
When representatives of Major League Baseball and the Kansas City Royals gathered in a dusty field and broke ground on what is now one of the premier youth baseball and softball facilities in the country, they had a dream to use baseball for bigger things.
Darwin Pennye left a job as an Athletic Director and coach at a high school in Houston to pour his heart into setting that dream in motion.
“If we only teach baseball and softball, we’ve missed it. It’s about life.”
Today the lofty vision has descended on the four pristine fields at the heart of the Urban Core. The philosophies learned on and around the fields are now growing in the minds and bodies of the kids who play at UYA.
Jared Fulghem first walked through the doors of the UYA while he was still in high school. He loved the game but was discouraged about his prospects of playing.
“I tried out my sophomore year, my junior and my senior year. I got cut all three times,” said Fulghem.
After training at the Urban Youth Academy, Fulghem earned a college scholarship to play catcher at Baker University. He now lives with the wisdom that failure can be a means to success.
Fulghem’s smile is wide and infectious. “It just gives me hope and makes me believe in myself and believe in my skills that some person may not want me, but there’s always somebody out there looking for me.”
C.L. Stacker, who signed with Kansas Christian College, is a UYA success story that almost wasn’t.
“It was August 13th. We were here around 9 a.m.,” Stacker said. “After I signed, it was about 30 minutes later, I was in an ICU room. I had just been shot twice sticking up for my sister.”
His bullet wounds show how close Stacker came to a career-ending injury. The bullet narrowly missed his vital organs, but the experience left him bitter and revengeful.
Stacker says he could have ended up in prison or in a gang if it weren’t for his mentor. The man he effectionally calls “D.P.” , the executive director of the Urban Youth Academy.
“Meeting Darwin has helped me excel to the next level. Not only with baseball, but also with growing another relationship,” Stacker said. “Making my relationship with God stronger and reading more about the Bible and figuring things out.”
This weekend, high school baseball players from all over the country are at the Urban Youth Academy showcasing their skills for college coaches and major league scouts.
“We can get caught up in scholarships and get caught up in signings and all, but there’s a bigger purpose in it,” Pennye said. “It’s important for us to make sure that these kids are equipped and ready to face life because at some point in time they ask you to turn in your uniform.”
That is precisely why Pennye is here, at one of baseball’s best Mid-west training grounds, where they are using a kid’s simple love for the game for a much grander scheme.
“Life is not all about baseball, but baseball is all about life,” grins Pennye.
If you would like to learn more about the programs at the Urban Youth Academy, which are free and available to all, check them out at online.