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Baltimore City aims to create opportunities for youth with Olympic-style Charm City Games

Baltimore City aims to create opportunities for youth with Olympic-style Charm City Games
Baltimore City Recreation and Parks and Muggsy Bogues host the 2nd Annual Sherron Bogues Day at the Druid Hill Park Basketball Courts in 2019. Baltimore City will be hosting the Charm City Games from July 15-20. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun)

When Reginald Moore, executive director of Baltimore City Recreation and Parks, thinks ahead to the upcoming Charm City Games, chills go down his spine.

“To be able to stand there and put a medal around these kids’ necks,” Moore said. “To know that it’s something of honor to them … to see the look on the kids’ faces when they receive that medal for competing.”

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Moore dreamed up the games, an Olympic-style competition for kids ages 12-14 from July 15-20, as a way to bring the communities of Baltimore together.

When Moore came to Baltimore in 2017, it was evident to him that Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods, and he thought, what better way to bring them together than “if we can connect them by competition?”

Moore was inspired by an experience he had as director of Parks and Recreation in Macon-Bibb County, Ga., when he attended the International Children’s Games, an annual International Olympic Committee-sanctioned event, in Cleveland.

At a City Council luncheon, Moore proposed to invite kids to compete in basketball, tennis, soccer, and track and field on teams representing the districts in which they live. Each area’s council member would head the district teams.

“What was funny to me was just the competitiveness of the different council members once I made my announcement,” Moore said. “[Councilman Brandon] Scott clearly told everyone they were playing for second, that [District 2] was going to win it.”

Councilmen Robert Stokes Sr. (District 12), Eric Costello (District 11) and Leon Pinkett III (District 7) have engaged in some competitive banter, as well.

“Some of the council people talk junk,” Stokes said. “Then we talk about who really can’t play basketball or something like that.”

Registration for the event opened May 29, and the mayor’s office, City Council and Recreation and Parks officially announced the games June 5.

The response from the community was extremely positive, Moore said.

“It’s something new,” Pinkett said. "I don’t think we have many opportunities for young people to participate in what would be a city-wide effort.”

It came as welcome news to Brad Chranko, who has been involved with soccer in Baltimore for 12 years.

As an organizer and former coach for the Charles Village Rec League, Chranko is among those who support a city-wide soccer league. When Chranko heard about the games, they seemed like a step in the right direction.

“It keeps it in the city, and it’s something that we would like to have kind of year-round,” Chranko said. “That would hopefully maybe be a catalyst to a full-time league.”

Moore’s team has already received comments about getting other sports involved, which Moore hopes to do in the future.

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Moore said expansion will require more than the current $100,000 needed from the Youth and Adult Sports Program budget, the general fund and business sponsors. Moore hopes success will encourage more local businesses to get involved.

Moore and his team chose locations strategically, placing them around the city. Track will compete at Frederick Douglass High School. Basketball games are at Councilwoman Rita R. Church Community Center and C.C. Jackson Recreation Center. Tennis and soccer matches are at Druid Hill Park.

After hearing about the games, Stokes reached out to homegrown star Keith Booth, the new Dunbar boys basketball coach who played at Dunbar, Maryland and for the Chicago Bulls.

Booth was interested, although he’s busy during this year’s games. Next year, however, District 12 might have a former NBA player on its coaching staff.

Moore said local college soccer players have also expressed interest in coaching.

“I think that it’s always a great opportunity when you can get college students to serve as role models, when you can get professional athletes to come and cheer on a kid, somebody they might see or might recognize on TV,” Moore said. “You never can go wrong with getting these older adults who can be mentors to these kids as well.”

Moore is emphasizing that people should stick to their district’s team, which has given Stokes confidence in District 12’s ability to compete in basketball.

“You’ve got to remember, District 12 has a pipeline of great basketball players,” Stokes said.

The person who’s talked the most smack to him, Scott, is out of the running now because he was elected as Council President on May 6 and no longer has a team of his own.

Instead, it’s turned into a bit of an East versus West competition, and Pinkett has emerged as his biggest rival.

“I think, historically, the residents of Baltimore know that the best athletes are born and groomed in West Baltimore,” Pinkett said. “We’ll try our best to take it easy on them.”

By having council members head each district, the games also bring the kids closer to their local government. As a community member, Chranko said he thinks the setup will give local government a more friendly face.

The games are also meant to help kids make friends outside their neighborhoods and connect the communities, including the parents.

“Athletics is something that has always brought communities together,” Moore said. “It’s a sense of pride, and it’s a sense of spirit.”

Chranko said that, at least within the soccer community, the games have the potential to connect the various soccer organizations and “re-energize” them as they push for a city-wide league.

Moore has been urging communities to support their athletes at all the events.

“Give them an opportunity to be honored as they’re your ambassadors of each district, and they’re competing to represent their district,” Moore said.

The games also were announced during a city-wide debate over where and how city youth spend their free time. The City Council allocated $2.6 million last month toward keeping recreational centers open on Saturdays.

“[The Charm City Games are] going to play a great role in terms of having opportunities for young people, especially during the summer,” Stokes said.

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