Andre Johnson gets extra math help from Melissa Williams during the 8th inning.

Green Stampede volunteers combine baseball and tutoring

on September 22, 2011

Student members of the Green Stampede know their way around the Oakland Coliseum very well.

The network of back corridors at the Oakland Coliseum can be confusing to the casual visitor. Winding hallways and windowless walls make for a puzzling journey. But the members of the Green Stampede, a non-profit organization that takes students to Oakland A’s games, really know their way around. It’s Tuesday afternoon, A’s versus Texas Rangers, and a group of students and adults whizz through the hallways in a blur of A’s  t-shirts, duffel bags and the occasional suitcase often toted by children too small for their books.

“Hey guys!” a security guard calls as the students file by. “How many babies did you bring today?”

As the group winds its way from conference room-turned-classroom to the game, they shout hello’s to people they pass. Many of them are returned. Someone slaps a high five to a cotton candy vendor. Kids shout to other grown-up season ticket holders by name.

The Green Stampede was founded in 2001 by Oakland school board member Chris Dobbins, who designed the program, along with friends who were both teachers and A’s fans, as a combination recreational and tutoring after school program. “It gives a lot of kids a place to go,” says Jorge Leon, Green Stampede President and former Stampede student.

“We were like, how can we go to games for free and combine it with teaching?” says Melissa Williams, an Oakland teacher and Green Stampede tutor, describing how the organization began. In the beginning, the founders brought their own students. Over the years the group has expanded and serves more kids, still mostly from East Oakland. “I grew up around here,” says Leon, “I didn’t come here that much because tickets were expensive for my parents.” He is happy that young Green Stampede students get the opportunity to come to so many games. He says, “Now these kids feel comfortable coming here, like this is their place.”

When he first heard about the Green Stampede Andre Johnson, 16 thought “free food, help with your homework, and you get to watch the game? I’m there.”

On Tuesday, September 20, 13 students, three tutors and one organization president attended the second-to-last game of the Oakland A’s season. The students’ ages ranged from six to 18. A complication with the regular caterer led to late arrivals, so there wasn’t much time for homework before the game. That didn’t stop some students from finishing homework in their seats during the game. “We like to get out right at 7 o’clock,” Leon said, “for the opening pitch.”

Green Stampede students see a lot of baseball games, and even a sporadic visitor to the ballpark knows that nine innings can last a long time. The variety of activities undertaken by 13 Stampeders was diverse and at times inventive. Here, inning by inning, is how it went.

1st Inning:

Shortly after the opening pitch, Jorge Leon hangs the Green Stampede banner from the railing of section 145 with the pride of a ship captain readying his vessel. This is the same section the group has occupied for all ten years of its existence. The older kids—one girl and five eager boys—race off in search of snacks. None of the adults mention the fact that everyone was fed a dinner of Popeye’s chicken and biscuits barely 20 minutes ago. Texas scores 3 runs, Oakland zero.

2nd Inning:

The younger kids are fidgety. This is likely due to a long day of sitting in class, followed by the anticipation-filled tutoring session they must endure before watching the game. Brianna Johnson, 8, has requested a second piece of chicken. Jasmine Delgadillo, 6, has started in on a ring pop. The older kids are back, and are intimidatingly occupying the back row. They seem slightly more engrossed in their cell phones, sunflower seeds and one another than the game. Texas scores another run. Texas 4, Oakland 0.

3rd  Inning:

Ana Mendez, a 17 year-old senior at College Park High School, and the only girl in back-row-land, announces that her mother has arrived to pick her up. The rest of the back row grows quiet with disappointment. Jasmine Delgadillo’s lips are beginning to turn a light shade of blue. Brianna Johnson, finished with her chicken, writes in her journal. “Not for school” she announces. “Just for fun.” Texas scores another two runs, bringing the score to 6-0.

4th Inning:

MC Young’s 1989 hit “Bust a Move” comes on the loudspeakers, and a three-minute multi-generational dance party ensues. Andre and Brianna spot their favorite player, Jemile Weeks, on the field below and lean over the railing to shout hello. “We met him a few times,” says Andre. Brianna pronounces him “awesome.”

5th Inning:

Michael Taylor, #23, scores for the A’s. Everyone in section 145 cheers. “This is his first career home run!” shouts Andre. Throughout the game the Green Stampede kids banter with the A’s fans across the aisle in the same section. One of them teases Andre about being a freshman at Skyline High. “Those guys have season tickets too,” Melissa Williams says.  “We’re all like family.” Various vendors also know the kids, some by name. A man selling what appear to be shots of whipped cream takes a break from shouting, “Whippets! Whippets for sale!” to ask, “You kids be here tomorrow?” Bottom of the 5th: Texas 6, Oakland 1.

6th Inning:

Brianna has made a paper airplane out of notebook paper, but says she doesn’t know how to fly it and sets it on the ground. Somewhere during the middle of the inning Melissa Williams points out a “blue shirt guy” to Brianna. These are the men who walk around the stadium photographing fans. Brianna poses happily and accepts the card that provides instructions for finding your picture online. “She and her brothers single-handedly keep these guys in business,” Williams says.

7th Inning:

The older boys are back from their second or third snack run. Brianna has found a mysterious bug underneath her seat and has taken a break from her arts and crafts to freak out. The A’s are huddling on the mound. Brianna forgets the bug and sits back in her seat, folding her “blue shirt guy” card into tiny folds.  No score change.  Texas 6, Oakland 1.

8th Inning:

Texas hits another run. The Green Stampede enthusiasm is waning. Brianna has changed seats and braids her bangs. Sean Johnson, junior at Skyline High School and hater of all things mathematical, has taken out his calculator and is getting extra help from Williams.

9th Inning:

Coco Crisp hits a home run and everyone is ecstatic. “We’re not going down without a fight!” screams Williams, who doesn’t mind at all that the home run has interrupted her math lesson. Final score: Texas 7, Oakland 2.As the group gets up to leave they wave goodbye to their section friends and shout “Bye Willie!” to the custodian who appears in section 145.

Williams has been to hundreds of games with countless students. By day she teaches at Golden Gate Prep, a charter school in Oakland. Some days she spends 16 hours with children who are not her own. “Sometimes I stop and realize that I see these kids more than their parents,” she says. She admits that sometimes she gets exhausted by the long days during baseball season, but she doesn’t care.   “I’m committed to education. If taking kids to a baseball game is the difference between them dropping out and succeeding, I’ll take kids to as many games as I have to.”

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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