121119_MNS_NAF_fields golf tourney group

Participants in the Northside Athletes Foundation’s 29th annual golf tournament gather on the putting green in front of the North Fulton Golf Course at Chastain Park in Buckhead.

One local organization is working with the city of Atlanta to help refurbish two inner-city fields in need of repair and bring more youth sports to those areas.

The Buckhead-based Northside Athletes Foundation, whose mission is “youth character and leadership development through sports,” is developing a public-private partnership with the city and county through the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority. The authority provides funds for the city and county to upgrade parks under their purview.

Under the proposal, the foundation would donate $55,000 combined to help revitalize one baseball field each at the Collier Heights and Center Hill parks in Atlanta, and the authority would match those funds. In years past the foundation has donated funds to parks and fields in Buckhead, Dunwoody, Hapeville and Sandy Springs, and this new partnership is an extension of that initiative, said Charlie Caswell Sr., a foundation co-founder.

“A lot of these cities don’t have a lot of money (to pay for park upgrades and/or maintenance),” he said.

Fellow co-founder Tom Raney said, “We’re looking for other underprivileged areas around the community to help get their parks and fields up to speed with the ones around Buckhead we grew up with.”

District 5 Atlanta Board of Education member Erika Mitchell, a Riverwood graduate who grew up in East Point, is working with the city and the authority to allocate their funding for the project. Both fields are in her district, and she said neither one has been played on in more than a year due to their poor conditions.

“The biggest impact this partnership will have is the fields will now be available and upgraded for our youth baseball teams to have adequate facilities to play on,” Mitchell said. “If you look at the fields now, they’re not in playing shape at all. The diamond will be replaced at Collier Heights. We’re looking at bringing in additional resources to help with the bleachers because those need to be upgraded as well.

“Collier Heights has a new batting cage, which is good, as well. With the bleachers and new diamond, they will be much better. With the Center Hill baseball field, they have no dugouts at all, so we’re looking to upgrade the fields so the youth baseball teams can play on them, to enhance their playing experience.”

The foundation, which has donated more than $1 million overall in its 29 years of existence, raises an average of more than $75,000 each year through events such as an annual golf tournament, Caswell said.

Mitchell said once the fields are refurbished, she hopes they can be used not only by boys’ baseball teams but also by girls’ softball squads and even by groups in the summer, getting nearly year-round use.

“We start softball in our middle schools, so with this partnership with the city, we could start this earlier with the kids,” she said. “That’s the biggest key with youth sports in the city. Do we have access to these types of facilities? Decades ago we did, but they went a couple of years without being upgraded or the teams kind of vanished. And we’re trying to help the schools with our youth leagues.”

Mitchell said the fields will give students an outlet to help them put their lives on the right path.

“I think this opportunity will help engage our boys and girls with baseball and softball,” she said. “My main reason for this is we want to be able to give kids more opportunities throughout the school year and also in the summer. The more opportunities we have for the kids, the less likely they’re to get involved with the wrong crowd and not get in trouble.”

For more information on the foundation, visit www.northsideathletes.com.

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