Princeton program takes kids out to the ballgame for fun and education

By Jennifer Greenstein Altmann

Princeton NJ -- Welcome to Waterfront Park, home to the Trenton Thunder," Princeton undergraduate Joe Robinson told a roomful of youngsters. "OK, what is this all about?" he asked them. "Baseball," volunteered 11-year-old Marcus.

hanging out with Trenton Thunder second baseman Keoni De Renne  

Six-year-olds Diondra (left) and Nigeria were elated to be hanging out with Trenton Thunder second baseman Keoni De Renne.


Robinson handed each of the nine students a copy of the team roster and a calculator. Soon the children, who ranged in age from 6 to 11, were figuring out the ages of several of the players and finding the players' hometowns on a large map spread out on the floor.

The outing was organized by Taking Kids Out, a program started by Louise Gengler, Princeton's women's tennis coach, to expose youngsters to baseball and give them an academic experience at the same time.

"The idea is to find a way to let kids get to Trenton Thunder games who couldn't otherwise afford to, and to add a small but meaningful educational piece along the way," said Gengler, who is a member of the Princeton class of 1975. The program, which is in its 10th year, has taken about 2,300 youngsters from community groups in Trenton and Princeton to Thunder games since 1994.

TKO is sponsored by the Univer-sity's athletic department. Each summer a Princeton undergraduate runs the program, while other students and staff members often go along as volunteers. The team provides tickets to the game and dinner. TKO raises funds to meet other program costs.

"The kids have a good time and they learn a little something," Gengler said. "We're trying to spark an interest in baseball, so we teach them how to read the statistics, and hopefully they'll continue to look in the newspaper. Any time they can pick up a newspaper and read, that's a good thing."

Robinson, who ran the program this year, explained to the students that the Trenton Thunder is a Double-A team, two ranks below the major leagues. "Working your way up to the major league is kind of like school: 'A' baseball is like elementary school, Double-A is like middle school, Triple-A is like high school, and the major league is like college."

Midway through the lesson, the youngsters were greeted by Trenton Thunder second baseman Keoni De Renne, who talked to them about how he made it to professional baseball.

"I wanted to be a baseball player, and to do that I had to get good grades, even when I was your age," he told them. "If I didn't do well in high school and college, I wouldn't be where I am now."

Then the kids had some questions.

"How many times do you strike out?" asked Jaquan, who is 11.

"Is it fun living in Hawaii?" Marcus wondered.

After De Renne signed autographs and posed for pictures, the kids found his hometown, Honolulu, on a map. They noted that he had to take an airplane to get to Trenton, where they live. Then it was time to take their seats in the stands and munch on hot dogs and pretzels as they watched the Thunder beat the Portland Sea Dogs 6-5 in the 10th inning.

"It was fun," Marcus said. Jaquan agreed: "We got to know a baseball player and where he lives."

Volunteer Natasha Morales, a member of the Princeton class of 2004, also said she had a good time. "I've been doing this every summer since freshman year," she said. "Even though most of the kids live in Trenton, they don't get a chance to come to the ballpark."

Robinson, who has worked with TKO for three years, recently expanded it by adding a new program during the academic year. Starting in the spring of 2002, youngsters came to Princeton's campus three times a month for an afternoon of tutoring and mentoring by Princeton students, followed by a tennis lesson from the varsity tennis team. That program serves students in grades 7 through 11.

"I've gotten to see that there is a real need," said Robinson, who is a member of Princeton's class of 2004. "Whether it's getting attached to a sport or being more committed to school, hopefully they are getting something out of it."


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