ABOVE: Dr. Lawson Howard coaching a baseball player
South East Little League is the only Black little league in the city of Houston under the little league umbrella and seeks to increase Black youth participation
Baseball is considered “America’s Pastime” and is a game that has served as a catalyst to help cultivate the talents of African Americans as part of the Negro Leagues, while also helping address the hot-button issue of racial integration in this country.
This year, Major League Baseball is celebrating the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 15, 1947.
Although Robinson became the first Black player to break the color barrier, other Black players joined him that year to endure the same racial hatred and vitriol such as Larry Doby, who broke the color barrier in the American League a few months after Robinson on July 5, 1947. All-in-all, Major League Baseball only had a little less than 1 percent of Black players on their Major League rosters in 1947. That percentage significantly increased over the years, topping over 18 percent in 1975 and reaching the all-time high of 18.7 percent in 1981. However, since 1981, that percentage has drastically fallen to well under 10 percent, with opening day rosters for the Major League Baseball teams this year being 7.2 percent, according to ESPN.
That is a disappointing trend, but one that can be remedied by encouraging Black youth from all socioeconomic backgrounds to participate in the game of baseball and by providing them with the necessary resources and opportunities to play the game in a structured and consistent manner.
Dr. Lawson Howard has always had a passion for the game of baseball since he was a kid.
Growing up in Houston’s historic Fifth Ward community, and being raised in South Park, Howard attended S.A. Pleasant Elementary, Alcott Elementary, Attucks Middle School, and Jesse H. Jones High School, and found success playing the game of baseball which allowed him to continue playing the game he loves on scholarship at Grambling State University.
Being from a community that was full of crime and drugs, Howard wanted to educate his community on natural healthcare instead of depending on pills and surgery, which is why he decided to attend Texas Chiropractic College after graduating from Grambling State University in 2000. He graduated Texas Chiropractic College in 2006, and has been a successful chiropractor since 2006, starting his own business, Better Days Chiropractic Clinic, in 2008.
Relative to baseball, Howard realized that there weren’t any programs promoting baseball in the inner-city, especially in the areas of town he grew up in. By this time, he had a stepson and was forced to take his stepson to Baytown, Texas, to play Select baseball with the Baytown Sliders. The long drive, fees, and time consumption took a toll on him as he tried to grow his chiropractic business. That is when he decided to do more research on little league baseball and figure out a way to solve the issue of him having to drive 45 minutes, at least two to three times per week, just for his son to play the game of baseball.
One day, his son had a friend invite him to a baseball practice with a team called the South East Indians at Law Park #2-Hicks Complex. The team was an all-Black team that had kids participating from various inner-city areas: South Park, South Union, Sunny Side, Cloverland and Third Ward. The coaches were David Wickware and Aaron Glenn. Howard was impressed with these brothers because they were knowledgeable about the game of baseball and were big on discipline, which stood out to him the most.
Howard immediately informed his stepson that he would be playing for the South East Indians as his new team, especially because he was rough around the edges.
“The first season that he played was tough for me to watch because I played college baseball at Grambling State University and went to spring training with the River City Rascals of the Frontier League, so I knew that the boys just needed more assistance and organization,” said Howard. “Someone told the coaches about my baseball background, so they approached me about helping bring South East Little League back into existence, because it had dissolved.”
The road to get South East Little League re-established was a journey, in that Howard had doors closed on him by a nearby little league program that forced him to interleague with Galena Park Little League. Howard counted that encounter a blessing, because that is where he met the Galena Park President, Mrs. R.C. Arredondo. Arredondo was the person who taught him how to function as a league president and helped guide him through the paperwork process of getting a charter in 2007 for South East Little League baseball, with the hopes of keeping baseball alive in South Park.
The rest is ongoing history.
South East Little League baseball has been providing opportunities for inner-city youth, especially Black youth, to get the training and experience needed to play the game of baseball.
According to Howard, one of the biggest challenges of keeping baseball alive in the inner-city is the lack of resources, the lack of nice and safe baseball fields, and kids not seeing people who look like them in Major League Baseball.
“There is a lack of support of the baseball programs in inner-city schools such as Sterling, Worthing, Madison, Yates, Kashmere, Wheatley, Booker T. Washington, and others,” said Howard. “These programs lack a budget for uniforms, equipment, transportation, bats, balls, catcher’s equipment and proper baseball fields. School districts also ignore the importance of hiring more than one baseball coach who has a true knowledge of the game. It’s difficult to attract a kid to play baseball in Sunnyside, if Worthing High School doesn’t even put a baseball team on the field, even though kids and coaches are interested. It is a huge challenge.”
Howard states that in order for baseball to thrive in Houston inner-city communities, South East Little League baseball will need more volunteers and more support from the City of Houston Parks Department. He states that there is some support from other entities, but more is needed.
“We need Houston ISD, Major League Baseball, and Little League International, to have more presence in our inner-city communities,” said Howard. “I commend those who have supported us, like Andre Walker of HISD, Daryl Wade and Paula Harris of the Houston Astros, and Manny Carrillo of Little League District 15, because without these folks there would be no Black baseball in the hood. South East Little League is the only Black little league in the city of Houston under the little league umbrella, since the demise of Almeda Little League and South Central Little League.”
On top of seeking to get more kids interested in the game of baseball and getting more resources, Howard states that the COVID-19 pandemic hit their league hard, as they were not able to provide baseball opportunities to the kids in the community since 2019. They attempted in 2021, but the City of Houston Park and Recreation department’s guidelines were very strict and international fees were extremely expensive. They also suffered a break-in into their storage container during the pandemic. They had just received a donation from Dicks Sporting Goods for new equipment that was estimated to be over $5,000 that the kids would have benefitted from.
Howard states that he has invested his blood, sweat, tears, and resources into providing these opportunities for inner-city youth, but would love for community leaders and interested individuals to help as well.
“We need more volunteers to come out and become coaches and help with field maintenance, concessions, and parking,” said Howard. “We would also like the Houston Police Department Stringfellow substation to put an on-duty officer at the fields on game days and possibly when we practice, so we are safe at night. Lastly, because we are located in District D, we have been screaming for help with the bathrooms and being able to have proper concessions at the park, just like the other parks have.”
As it was when Howard was first introduced to it, South East Little League baseball still holds their practices and their games at Law Park #2, which is located at 6200 Scarlet St., off of Mykawa Rd. in southeast Houston.
If you are interested in volunteering or assisting, Dr. Lawson Howard can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Let’s support this important institution and encourage our Black youth to get involved with the wonderful game of baseball and help increase the number of Blacks in Major League Baseball.