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Kids in the predominantly Latino community of East Harlem (El Barrio) were in great need of physical activity programing and safe places to play. Alex Sabater and Deborah Quinones wanted to change that so they teamed up to create Young Bucks Sports, a non-profit aimed at preventing childhood obesity through teaching the sport and tradition of stickball to youth. Now Young Bucks Sports offers multiple activities to youth in Harlem for free, including: a summer stickball institute, pop-up playgrounds, a march to prevent obesity, and an annual festival with activities aimed at preventing obesity in the community.
Awareness: Alex Sabater loves stickball and loves to share the same with others in New York City (NYC). The game, which is especially popular among Latinos, is a modified version of baseball that uses a broomstick or wooden pole as a bat and a small rubber ball instead of the traditional baseball.
“Stickball is just like baseball, Sabater said. “Except you have seven innings instead of nine and you only have one chance to hit the ball.”
After playing for a stickball league in his adult years and relocating to East Harlem (also known to many as “El Barrio” or “Spanish Harlem”), Sabater started thinking about forming his own team. He began by recruiting his own cousins and nephews but soon realized there was a far greater need for physical activity and safe places to play than he thought.
“I started noticing that more and more kids wanted to get involved,” Sabater said. “What I noticed is that we don’t have as many playgrounds as we used to have.”
Learn: Because he wanted to keep the sport and tradition of stickball alive in his community, in 2007 Sabater decided to find out what he needed to do to temporarily close down a local street to play. A friend told him to contact Deborah Quinones, a member of Manhattan’s Community Board 11 and an employee of the Office of Policy and Planning at the NYC Department of Health.
Quinones said Sabater wanted to create a place for young people to learn stickball and understand the benefits of physical fitness.
“He came to the community board to seek a permit to close the streets because he wanted to create a safe space for youth in the community who don’t normally participate in programs,” Quinones said. “He has really sought to give back to the community because he felt that the benefits of participating in the stickball experience helped him to transform his life.”
Frame Issue: At the time, Quinones stated that there was concern about the impact of obesity in the community and the lack of safe places to play. According to The Fund for Public Health in New York, more than 40% of children in New York elementary schools and Head Start programs are overweight or obese. Latino children are often at an even greater risk for becoming obese than others.
“What we were finding was that playgrounds were being closed and locked up,” Quinones said. “We have a lot of gang situations in El Barrio, and gang members were vandalizing playground equipment. The schools were more concerned with preserving the playground equipment rather than keeping their school yards open to the public and allowing small organizations…to run stuff.”
In addition, Quinones believed that having to pay for permits to close streets created a barrier for organizations, which had to raise money just to be able to allow kids to play.
Education: After meeting with Sabater for the first time and learning about his interest in bringing more recreational opportunities to kids in El Barrio, Quinones encouraged Sabater to formalize his organization.
“Not only was this about getting kids to be active, but it was also about preserving the sport of stickball; and about the fight against obesity,” Quinones said.
She agreed to partner with him and to help with some of the technical aspects of making his group, called Young Bucks Sports, a non-profit organization.
Mobilization: Almost immediately, Sabater recalls going with Quinones to The Legal Aid Society’s Community Law Office in Harlem for technical support to start the non-profit group.
“The pitch we made was about preserving old games and tapping into the cultural fiber,” Quinones said. “If they picked your project, then they helped you to do the incorporation for free.”
Debate: Although, they could probably get permission to close down the street without having to do all the paper work, Quinones said they decided that they wanted to do things the right way.
“It’s like that ‘hook-you-up’ mentality, which is an avoidance of creating proper policy, that we need to get away from,” Quinones said. “That doesn’t develop leadership and you have to constantly rely on one person.”
Because Quinones and Sabater were serious about bringing lasting change to the community, they decided to come up with a plan and move forward with filing for non-profit status.
Activation: They filled out the needed paper work to turn Young Bucks Sports into a non-profit, worked on a mission statement and recruited individuals for a board of directors.
They also contacted members from a local stickball league and local businesses.
“We work with local restaurants and businesses so that they can have the opportunity to give back,” Quinones said.
Sabater said he reached out to summer camps, daycares, elected officials and the local housing authority, to ask for support and to let them know about the free activities they would be offering to the community.
“They really support the idea of the positive power of play and working to preserve the old-school games that they once played,” Quinones said.
Frame Policy: The mission of Young Bucks Sports is to preserve old school games to reduce and reverse obesity in NYC.
The idea was to first offer a free program to teach kids ages 6-17 the fundamentals of the game of stickball during the summer months of July and August, every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“It’s integrating and building a new generation of stickball players, preserving the game, and adding other aspects to the concept of play from a cultural perspective,” Quinones said.
Change: In 2007, within three months of filing for non-profit status, Young Bucks Sports became an official organization dedicated to preserving the sport of stickball, bringing safe active spaces to kids, and to reversing the childhood obesity epidemic.
They then organized the first Summer Stickball institute in 2007.
“We go in there and provide everything for the kids, water, snacks, and all the equipment,” Sabater said.
Implementation: Since 2007, the group has offered an annual summer stickball institute and several other policies and activities:
- Pop-up Playgrounds
- Amateur Handball Tournaments
- Arts and Crafts
- Nutrition and Health Education Workshops
- Exercise Sessions and Light Aerobics
“The idea is kind of like beating obesity one game at a time,” Quinones said.
In fact, “beating obesity” is part of their signature event: The Positive Power of Play—Beating Obesity One Game at a Time!
For their July 2014, summer kick-off event, which will take place next to one of the largest housing projects in East Harlem, Quinones said they are expecting 5,000 participants from the East Harlem area to attend.
“Were going to transform a school yard into a giant pop-up playground,” she said. “We’re a small organization with big dreams.”
Every year, a few weeks after the stickball institute, the community is invited to participate in a tournament, which is organized as part of a Labor Day, community wide “day of play.”
In the spring, Young Bucks Sports members participate in a community-led March Against Obesity, aimed at raising funds for fitness programs and walking trails.
Equity/Sustainability: To foster good relationships and a positive perception of law enforcement, Quinones said Young Bucks Sports invites playground park staff and local police to spend time with the community. They also invite guests from the local stickball league to provide workshops to the young group of stickball players.
Because stickball is viewed as a traditional old-school game, players of all ages including parents and grandparents often join in on the fun.
“We encourage that parent-child play aspect of it,” Quinones said.
She also stated that Young Bucks Sports is working to promote the game among young Latinas, and that one day she and Sabater hope to bring more coaching opportunities to its members, in order to train more players of color to become umpires.
Through partnerships and building trust in the community Young Bucks Sports has also helped support the efforts of the New York City Health Department, which is working to reduce sugary beverage consumption in the community. According to Quinones, members of Young Bucks Sports participated in focus groups and even received recognition for their efforts to reduce sugary beverage consumption in their community.
A Neighborhood Report from the East and Central Harlem District Public Health Office
Community Health Profile East Harlem
New Yorkers Prove Stickball Isn’t a Dying Sport-New York Post
Young Bucks Sports Webpage
Reversing the Epidemic: The New York City Obesity Task Force Plan to Prevent and Control Obesity
This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
By The Numbers
This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.