Bonnie Youth Club keeps kids in the game

August 6, 2020 Jaime DeJesus
Bonnie Youth Club keeps kids in the game
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Diamonds are forever.

The Bonnie Youth Club (BYC), a year-round youth program which uses baseball as a vehicle to develop young players into successful adults, is celebrating its 71st year.

The club, which provides academic, athletic and recreational activities for ages 5 to 21, was started in 1949 in East Flatbush by Al Bonnie Sr. and his sons, Al Jr. and Joe. They had a moving and storage business and wanted to do something to give back to the community. So they created a baseball program, starting with one team. Today, there are 15 teams and 350 players.

“We view our mission as using baseball and sports to produce solid citizens,” said athletic director Jerry Katzke. “We bring players into the program at a young age and, over a period of years, not only develop their baseball skills but their sense of sportsmanship and fair play, and help them in terms of their academics and athletics in high school and college.”

There are 14,000 BYC alumni across the country, including NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum; New York Mets Farm Director Jared Banner; major league umpire C.B. Bucknor; and Assemblymember Erik Dilan.

Katz, who has been with the club for more than 50 years, believes it offers something other programs don’t.

“Our instructional league is for those who haven’t played baseball before and [we] develop their skills and get them to the point where they can compete at a local and national level,” he said. “Also, what we’ve been very successful at is getting former players to come back and serve as managers. Half of our managers were players that came up through the organization. They helped us keep our tradition going a number of years.”

Diversity in the neighborhood is also a factor.

“When the organization first started back in 1949, the East Flatbush community was primarily Italian and Irish, some Jewish,” said Katzke. “Over the last 71 years, the area has changed dramatically. We serve a very diverse set of players and parents.”

The league officially restarted during New York’s Phase 3 reopening, when sports activities were again permitted. The first game was July 11. However, they had to play upstate while city parks remained closed.

“At one point, we thought that there was no way we were going to be able to play this year, and then a few things started falling into place,” said Katzke. “New York City and the state got the virus under reasonable control. In Westchester and Long Island, they opened their fields and we were able to open our programs there.”

Players were excited to finally play ball.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm from players and parents,” said Katzke. “We were concerned when reopening whether the parents were going to feel comfortable with sending their kids to play. We put a lot of work into putting a lot of safety guidelines in place and we got cooperation from the parents.”

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