Omaha League Trying to Save Inner-City Baseball

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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) -- WOWT is honored to receive the 2016 RTDNA Regional Murrow Award for Sports Reporting. Below is the award-winning story as it originally appeared on June 17th, 2015.

Every year, CWS Inc. teams up with the NCAA to give money to amateur athletics promoting teamwork and sportsmanship. Since 1973, more than $4-million has been passed on in Omaha. One local league is using some of the money to try to save inner-city baseball.

By all appearances, the Omaha Memorial Little League looks like any other league.

“With Memorial it's all about work on player development and just have fun,” said 2nd year coach Anthony Gullotta -- just one year removed from high school.

It's a league where putting on the catching gear takes minutes, not seconds.

“We wait for the catcher every inning,” said Ben Fogarty, a coach for the other team.

It's one where players are still growing into their jersey and the pitchers are still finding the elusive strike zone.

But on the Hillside complex of ball diamonds near 78th and Western, the volunteer coaches mix in a healthy dose of encouragement with Baseball 101.

“Hey, that's two you stopped in one day. Good job,” said Coach Fogarty.

“Get your feet up a little bit more and the bat...give me a practice swing. Just like that,” said Coach Gullotta.

But there's a larger purpose within Memorial Little League.

“It's a game that's dying in inner-cities,” said Fogarty. “We are finding a way to get inner-city kids to play baseball again.”

The league wants to save baseball for the next generation.

Last year, CWS Inc. offered the league a $2,500 grant to help cover registrations for some of its players.

“Let's go Kevin, let's go!”

Kevin – one of the taller kids on his team – is new to the game. He struck out this time.

"Good job,” said Coach Gullotta. “Hey, it's your first time. Don't worry about it."

Reporter: “It looks like you're coaching the other team, as well – and in a lot of places – that wouldn't happen.”

Anthony Gullotta: “It's the thing about what we do. We focus more on the players than actually trying to win. It's nice to win – and fun to win, but we want to make sure everyone is doing the best they can.”

We also noticed the sportsmanship. After getting hit by a pitch, Eduardo tries to shake it off. The kid who threw the pitch heads to home plate to make sure he's okay.

“Owen, where are you playing bud?”

That's coach Ben Fogarty's kid. Owen hasn't parted with the sunglasses since Grandma gave them to him the night before.

His older brother and sister are teammates on this Saturday morning. By having them play together helps dad from losing his whole summer to coaching. He can focus on this one team.

“I wanted one year of one set of games – William is 8 and Owen is 5.”

At a time when youth sports gets criticized for taking itself too seriously, Memorial Little League comes around – where putting kids from the same school on the same team to make them comfortable overrides ability.

“Maybe someone in South Omaha or deeper into North Omaha has their own idea on doing this and maybe we could help them,” said Fogarty. “This is something that could be grown all over the place.”

CWS Inc. will announce the current crop of grant recipients on July 1.  Last year, $82,500 in grants were given in the metro.