In 1984, Willie Hutch Jones dedicated himself to finding a way to combine his professional NBA experience with the Los Angeles Lakers and his desire to advance the knowledge and self-esteem of children and young adults in his hometown of Buffalo. He achieved this goal by establishing the Willie Hutch Jones Educational & Sports Program (WHJESP,) providing young people from all racial and socio-economic backgrounds with strong positive influences and special training in sports and education. Now, nearly four decades and 10,000 children later, Jones is launching the 38and summer season on Major League Baseball’s (MLB) annual Jackie Robinson Day to commemorate, honor and look forward.
“Seventy-five years ago, Jackie Robinson made his Major League Baseball (MLB) debut, advancing a legendary career that continues to inspire athletes of all ages and races,” said Hutch. “Prior to his debut, Robinson played baseball against the Buffalo Bisons at Offermann Stadium as a member of the Montreal Royals. We are here today, at the Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Sports Pavilion, to commemorate Jackie Robinson’s iconic MLB birthday and honor his special connection to our city.
“We are also here to rejoice in the promise of future ‘Jackie Robinsons’, as we announce the launch of the Willie Hutch Jones Education & Sports Program’s thirty-eighth summer season. In the program’s four decades of existence, we’ve trained more than 10,000 Buffalo youth in educational and athletic clinics, providing them with the skills they need to succeed in life. I’m thrilled to make this announcement today, on the anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first MLB game, and proud to officially dedicate the 2022 summer season in his honor.
Joining Jones were alumni of his program from the past four decades, as well as current year enrollees. Everyone spoke of their WHJESP experience, including thirty-nine-year-old Buffalo attorney Chris Hayes, who came to the program in 1990. Today, he gives back to WHJESP as a volunteer speaker, in exchange for support which he received in his youth.
“I am who I am today in part because of the life lessons I learned through the Willie Hutch Jones ESP program,” Hayes said. “The time I spent there provided me with examples of what it takes to be successful, which I had to put into practice and work on my skills. I also learned how important it is to have a good mental approach. That winning isn’t always about being the biggest or the strongest, and that was transferable into my life. Willie and the coaches were all good men and good people.
The 2022 Willie Hutch Jones Athletic and Educational Program is now accepting registration from children ages 6-16 residing in Buffalo and Lackawanna for their FREE Summer Baseball, Softball, Basketball, Soccer, Tennis, Volleyball, Rowing Clinics in team, chess, steel drums, and dancing. Clinics will be held in July and August at Riverside Park (dance, chess, soccer), McMillan Courts at Delaware Park (tennis), Buffalo State College (basketball, volleyball), Johnnie B. Wiley/Masten Park (soccer ), Canisius College Koessler Center (volleyball), West Side Rowing Club (team rowing.) Lackawanna summer clinic locations for chess and steel drums will be announced.)
This year’s baseball and softball clinics will be held in partnership with Major League Baseball’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program at McCarthy Park, located at 304 E. Amherst St.
The park is dedicated to legendary baseball coach, Joe “Marse” McCarthy, who lived most of his adult life at WNY.
These FREE clinics will run from July to August, depending on the activity. Pre-registration is required. All programs are free with registration on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information or to register: whjsc.org/summer-programming
Main image: (L-R) Nico Duncan, former WHJESP participant and current coach of the program, Chris Hayes-Avocat, former WHJESP participant and current volunteer speaker, Charles Wilson, member of the WHJESP board of directors.