By Mark F. Gray, Special to the AFRO
Dr. Rick Bryson has a passion for baseball, kids and athletes. The Prince George’s County based podiatrist has worked tirelessly to bring attention to swing sports with little support. Nonetheless, Bryson continues to spend his time and his money to bring attention to high school baseball and softball in a county where those sports have become an afterthought.
The Prince George’s County High School Baseball/Softball Awards celebrated its fourth anniversary at Kentland Community Center in Landover honoring the top “swing sports” athletes throughout the county. Thirty-five players representing public and private schools were recognized for their accomplishments on the diamond, in the classroom and community service.
Prince George’s County baseball and softball players are joined by community leaders after the 2018 Awards Banquet at Kentland Community Center in Landover. (Courtesy Photo)
When he started the unsanctioned event in 2014, Bryson was hoping to bring baseball and softball out from the shadows of more popular sports in Prince George’s County. Football and basketball garner more attention, since the area is heavily recruited and many players leave to become accomplished college athletes and ultimately NBA and NFL stars; as a result baseball and softball athletes are given little recognition.
“Programs like this capture something that showcases what happens when families get behind their kids,” Bryson told the AFRO. “Most parents aren’t used to seeing this kind of exposure for their softball or baseball player.”
This event was from the days where Bryson was actively involved with a barnstorming traveling youth baseball team that participated in tournaments throughout the mid-Atlantic region based at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Fort Washington. The team was a collection of players who were passionate about the game and were looking for a chance to compete on an organized team that traveled like AAU basketball or track teams summer programs. His son Blake couldn’t play at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria and didn’t have his dad’s passion for basketball so he had to make the sacrifice during the late spring and summer to satisfy his enthusiasm for baseball.
“Most parents rely on high schools to provide athletes with a platform to compete in sports but if there’s not an opportunity you’ve got to make it happen,” Bryson adds.
The awards banquet has grown without the benefit of major sponsorship or the official sanctioning of the Prince George’s County Athletic Association. While Dr. Bryson’s tenacity and advertisements by elected officials in the souvenir program provide the budget, the banquet may not have survived had it not been for the Bowie Baysox. The Baltimore Orioles AA affiliate legitimized the event by giving it a venue for two previous years that projected credibility to the County’s athletic community. More coaches have become involved in the process of selecting honorees and parents now see value in exposing their kids to America’s national pastime.
“The event works because of the interaction with other entities in the community with the intention of preparing our kids in Prince George’s County for success,” said Bryson. “Our growth has been helped by getting more support from the coaches as well. We are proving that.”
This year’s keynote speaker was Jim Coleman, the president and CEO of the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation. Coleman, author of the book Cut the Crap and Close the Gap, used that as the basis for challenging this year’s group of honorees to return home from college with degrees and make a lasting impact on the future of the County. His challenge was for them to think about becoming millionaires in the most affluent African American county in the United States.
“Our success is a function of interaction with other entities in the community with the mission of preparing kids for success,” said Bryson.