Things that North Camden, New Jersey, is known for: drugs, poverty, and a devastating murder rate (12 times the national average at last survey). Things that North Camden, New Jersey, will soon be known for, if Bryan Morton has anything to do with it? Just one: Little League. The 42-year-old resident, a born-and-raised local, started playing baseball with the neighborhood kids around the same time that the city, faced with mountainous debt, decided to lay off about half it’s police force.
As the city braced for impact, Bryan stepped up to the plate, creating an official league for the area’s residents to join:
It’s only $25 to join the league, and for that each player gets a practice uniform and a game uniform, cleats, a glove if he needs one, and a trophy at the end of the season. “Our kids already have two strikes against them,” Bryan says. “They come from Camden, and they come from North Camden. But they will never look like they’re not competitors.” He manages this with the help of the Philadelphia Phillies RBI program and a generous private donor who buys all the game uniforms. By registration’s end, he has 200 kids signed up and twenty-nine volunteer coaches.
These days, the city parks find kids lobbing soft balls and exchanging ghost stories — “They never found the body! He haunts the fields at night!” — between learning proper manners (no negative chants) and how to catch grounders. It’s a development Bryan takes humbly in stride:
Bryan’s philosophy in a nutshell: Don’t let circumstances dictate your behavior. Reverse that dynamic. Fill the parks with kids and families and eventually the junkies and the dealers will drift away. Pretend that you live in a safe place and maybe it will become one.
Photo via mileskent