Hillsborough county gathers for the 18th Annual Black Heritage Celebration

02/12/10 Alexis Chamberlain
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It was all things baseball today at the Hillsborough County Center as the county’s Black Heritage Committee paid tribute to four local Negro Leagues baseball players.

This year’s Black Heritage Celebration, The African-American Contribution to Baseball, recognized Clifford Brown, Walter Gibbons, Raydell Maddix and Billy Reed, who played for the semipro teams the Pepsi-Cola Giants and Tampa Rockets in their prime.

Dave Reynolds, a local sportscaster and self-proclaimed baseball fan, emceed the celebration.

The Negro Leagues players paved the way for today’s stars, sleeping on suitcases, going hungry and playing baseball for only $125 a month in the 1930s and 1940s. These players went without all of the comfort and luxury players experience today. And they did it all for the love of the game.

But although the Negro League players were the stars at today’s 18th Annual Hillsborough County Black Heritage Celebration, the focus seemed to be on children and the upcoming generation of baseball players.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White thanked the players.

The celebration began with the pledge of allegiance led by Hillsborough County Head Start, an early-childhood program that partners with families and the community to build a foundation for self-reliance, and featured a vocal performance by the Rampello Downtown Partnership School Chorus.

With children in mind, Brown, Gibbons, Maddix and Reed have been going around to schools throughout the county, talking to students about the importance of staying in school.

Walter Gibbons is a semi-retired supervisor at the University of Tampa's Training Center for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Although the group does try to motivate kids to stay in school and participate in after school activities and sports, Billy Reed’s focus is simply to be a positive influence in children’s lives, striving to be a source of encouragement, in general.

The Tampa Bay History Center is currently hosting an exhibit featuring art inspired by the Negro leagues entitled “Shades of Greatness: Art Inspired by Negro Leagues Baseball.” The exhibit will be displayed through April 25.

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