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SUN VALLEY : Youths Get Softball League of Their Own

Even with a baseball strike, the Royals will be playing the Indians while the White Sox take on the Braves tonight.

But the players will not hail from Kansas City, Cleveland, Chicago or Atlanta, but from Sun Valley, North Hollywood, Pacoima and Tujunga in a new softball league starting at Sun Valley Park to give kids an alternative to gangs and the streets.

The idea to form the league for 13- to 20-year-olds came from the kids themselves.

“We never had an opportunity like this before,” said 19-year-old Susan Lopez, a member of the Youth Empowerment Committee, which has formed the co-ed softball league.

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The committee is a group of teen-agers brought together by the East Valley Partnership Community Council and the San Fernando Valley Partnership, which started the league with the help of the Sun Valley Park, Community Youth Gang Services and the Keeping Youth Doing Something program.

The committee is made up of a wide range of kids, including student achievers who dream of being doctors, lawyers and police officers, as well as those who are at-risk or gang members.

Most of the players in this league of four, 15-member teams live in Sun Valley, but some come from throughout the East Valley, although they may have once lived here and still call it home.

“All of the kids grew up together but went different ways,” said Lopez, adding that forming the league has broken down old barriers between gang and non-gang kids. Membership on teams is not determined by neighborhood, clique or other affiliations.

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“We all struggle the same and we all are coming together,” Lopez said.

The teen-agers who have formed this league have duly impressed the adults who have helped them.

“Basically, they have done it on their own,” said Tom Hutchinson, recreation director at Sun Valley Park. “We’re trying to show them we’re not working against them but we’re trying to work with them.”

Sandy Kievman, executive director of Keeping Youth Doing Something, which runs softball leagues at other Valley parks, said that most of the work--finding sponsors, organizing teams, etc.-- has been done by the kids, which she would ordinarily have to do.

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“They’re doing all the footwork really,” she said. “They created it and I’m just stepping in to help.”

A measure of the success of such softball programs is that gang or neighborhood affiliation does not become as important, Kievman said.

“I’ve seen it happen in other parks where the kids who have the team--their membership becomes their identity,” Kievman said.

The league is only funded to run for 10 months and will need more funding to continue every Friday night, she said.

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The league started with a $10,000 grant in federal funds acquired by the San Fernando Valley Partnership.

The opening ceremonies start at 5:30 p.m. followed by the softball games at 6 p.m. Those who are interested in joining the league can call Paul Palato of the San Fernando Valley Partnership at (818) 837-7767, Ext. 312.


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