Major league baseball players, including Pacific Palisades brothers Scott (Texas Rangers) and Tyler (San Franciso Giants) Heineman, hosted the second annual Prime Time Casino Classic to raise funds for a program that allows special needs kids to be part of a high school team.
“Team Prime Time hits home with us,” Tyler Heineman told Circling the News. “It creates a leg up for kids who don’t have the opportunity to play.”
At December’s fundraiser in Santa Monica, organized by former Palisades resident and former Duke soccer goalie Wade Clement, Major League Baseball players Cody Bellinger (Dodgers), Jack Flaherty (Cardinals), Max Fried (Atlanta Braves), Trevor Plouffe (free agent) and Jacob Nottingham (Brewers), were joined by minor league players Conner Greene, Miles Williams, Blake Rutherford and Casey Ryan in raising money for a sports program that matches children with disabilities with at-risk youth.
Clement said about 350 people paid to attend the event this year, which is about 100 more than the inaugural event last year. Nearly $50,000 was raised, which means Prime Time will be able to expand a program that allows special needs kids to play on school teams for soccer, basketball and flag football.
“We’re striving to secure the necessary funding and partnerships to implement the program at 100 schools this year,” Clement said. “I would like to see Prime Time Games in every federally-funded school in the country, for its ability to provide access to athletics, inclusion and social emotional development for two at-risk populations simultaneously.”
The concept is simple: a varsity high school athlete is paired with a special needs teenager. That athlete serves as a coach/mentor for the teen.
Prime Time Games staggers sports seasons so they don’t conflict with the varsity players’ schedules. “When they teach their own sport, it shifts their perspective,” Clement said, noting that 70 percent of the students (coaches) stay for four seasons. “They say, ‘I don’t want to let my athletes down.’
“By uniting students from low-income schools and their classmates with disabilities, this program provides structured opportunities for relationship and community development in addition to athletic access,” he said.
“The best part for me is watching how participants develop academically,” Clement said, who noted that nearly 97 percent of peer coaches graduate high school on time (average for LAUSD Schools in 2017 was 76.1 percent), and 85 percent of those students attend college or start their careers. (The national average for low-income kids is 77.5 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education).
“These students become more confident in themselves because they have witnessed their ability to impact others,” Clement said. In an earlier interview, he said the cost to start a program is about $7,500 per school, which covers uniforms, equipment, transportation and the salary of the head coach. After the first season it’s $5,000 per school.
The program began in 2012 with Venice High School and University High School competing against one another during spring basketball season and fall soccer season. Currently athletes and their peer coach/mentors are found in 60 schools in Southern and Northern California, Hawaii and New York.
Prime Time Games is a nonprofit started in 2012 by Santa Monica resident Peter Straus. The program aims “to provide intervention programs for at-risk children from low-income areas of Los Angeles that combine academics, athletics and leadership training,” according to its mission statement.
If you want to find out more about the program or how you can help, email Clement: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: TeamPrimeTime.org.
Or if you’d like to bid on some special items from the auction, which are available through 11:59 p.m. on Monday, January 20, visit: http://bit.ly/primetimecasino.