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Baseball gives hope to township kids

From Nima Elbagir, CNN and Catriona Davies
Baseball has changed children's lives in Philippi township near Cape Town
Baseball has changed children's lives in Philippi township near Cape Town
  • Baseball is virtually unheard of in South Africa's townships
  • Children started playing in Philippi township near Cape Town four years ago
  • Baseball players in the township also get academic tutoring

Cape Town, South Africa (CNN) -- Baseball is virtually unheard of amongst South Africa's poorest communities, but in one township it is changing children's lives.

Coaches started teaching baseball in Philippi township on the outskirts of Cape Town, an area blighted by drugs, crime and poverty.

It has given a positive focus for children who grow up in cramped accommodation with hundreds of thousands of other families, living in shacks with no heating, power or running water.

Coach Nyameko Gabada, who introduced baseball to this community four years ago after South Africa did well in the World Baseball Classic, said: "I found there's a lot of crime that's abusing the children of this place."

Video: A league of their own

He said there was a novelty value, because although baseball is gaining popularity in richer areas with access to international sports channels, it was unheard of in the townships.

"Once we started and then everybody wanted to know 'what's this game?' and they started coming in numbers," he said.

The team they formed, called Philippi Angels, immediately did well in the local league.

I'm feeling very good about myself playing baseball.
--Lazola Ndlangalavu
  • Cape Town
  • South Africa
  • Baseball

Another coach Rob Rosenbaum said: "In the first season we started with two teams, Under 12 and Under 14. Amazingly the Under 14s won their league and the Under 12s came in second.

"You can imagine the impact that had in the community when these kids came home with their trophy and ran around the neighborhood celebrating."

Lazola Ndlangalavu, a 15-year-old player who helps to coach younger children, said: "This township has a lot of drugs and bad things happen, but if you do sport you stop doing drugs and the bad stuff.

"I'm feeling very good about myself playing baseball."

Lazola has been chosen to play in the provincial team and is the only player from a township to do so.

He said: "I'm the only black guy around whites which is a pretty good experience."

Youngsters who sign up for the baseball coaching also commit to academic tutoring, and that is paying dividends.

One of the youngsters, Masixola Jack, said: "At school I'm doing great. I've got Bs, Cs and Ds. I used to get normally Es and Fs." He now hopes to go to university to study environmental conservation.

Rosenbaum added: "It's the commitment to something bigger than yourself. It's the hard work and discipline. You transfer that to the rest of your life and you've got a much better chance.

"When someone comes up to talk they don't say 'thank you for spreading baseball' or anything like that, they say 'thanks for getting these kids of the streets.'"