DELRAY BEACH – Forty-two years after the legendary Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson broke the race barrier in major league baseball, two little league teams in Delray Beach are still largely segregated.
The reason: Boundaries drawn on a racial basis during the segregation era and no substantial effort to integrate the popular area leagues.
The Delray Beach National Little League, which now plays at the newer Robert P. Miller Park, 1905 S.W. Fourth Ave., is mostly white because of the decades-old boundaries, Coach Erinn Johnson said.
“I’ve found that the boundary lines are from the 1950s, specifically put there because black ball players were not allowed to play with white players,” Johnson said.
Enter Eddie Odom, a Georgia native, who was raised in Delray Beach from age 4 and who played professional baseball.
Odom started the Delray Beach American League in 1971, a mostly black league which has given children the opportunity to experience and learn the game of baseball in their own backyard.
“We want to give our kids a place to play,” Odom said. “Everybody is not going to be a Barry Bonds or the great Jackie Robinson but we want to give them the opportunity.”
Families, friends and supporters from the surrounding communities come out to see the Delray Beach American League teams play at Pompey Park, 1101 NW Second St.
Both Odom and Johnson would like to see greater integration of the two leagues.
Odom said about 200 youths are in his league, including whites and Hispanics, but the players are predominantly African American. “Everybody is welcome to play. We want to keep baseball alive in our community, whether [the players are] good or bad,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll get more kids to come out and play. That’s all colors.”
Odom said despite the boundaries, there is no animosity between the two leagues.
“The boundaries have changed only a little bit. However, the two leagues have no fights,” he said. “We have no control over where people decide they want to send their kids.”
Johnson agreed that the players and coaches from the two leagues get along well.
The two coaches said players are missing out on opportunities to play with other teams because they may live outside a boundary.
“Kids and parents are missing out on getting to know one another,” Johnson said.
Johnson also coaches the Delray Tigers Traveling Team, whose members include non-white players.
“I’ve recruited players from both the American and National leagues,” Johnson said. “We need someone to step up and say, ‘We need a change.’ We have less players for teams in either league. We need to combine the leagues to fully utilize the new park, which has amenities.”
Delray Beach city spokesman Rich Reade said the leagues themselves are enforcing any boundary constraints that may exist.
“The leagues are independent of the city. We provide locations for them to play but we do not control the leagues themselves,” Reade said. “The city doesn’t establish boundaries. If they break up boundaries within the organizations, that’s their decisions.”
Change may not be easy. Odom said parents seem to like the convenient location of Pompey Park, which is in walking distance of many players and parents can easily come out to support the players.