Going to bat for kids

Carlton Smith makes solid contact on a pitch during a PlayToday! Wiffle Ball game Tuesday at Forest Park. For more photos, see postandcourier.com/galleries.

A program to change lives with a plastic ball and bat is picking up steam and expanding.

Several dozen children from some of the Charleston area’s most at-risk neighborhoods are learning life lessons through the PlayToday! Wiffle Ball League.

“I think what it does is build confidence,” founder Channing Proctor, a former Citadel baseball player, said after a game Tuesday. “One of the lessons in life you have to learn is you’re going to strike out. So how do you handle it?”

The fourth- through sixth-graders play during June and July on the Miracle League’s rubber-covered field on West Oak Drive in West Ashley. This is the program’s second year.

Most of the children come through WINGS for Kids, an after-school program that teaches kids how to behave well, make good decisions and build healthy relationships, according to the group’s mission statement.

Citadel football players help coach and inspire the kids in the league. Staff from the school’s psychology and sports-performance departments are measuring each child’s progress in skills and attitudes at the start and end of the season this year.

U.S. Rep. Tim Scott of North Charleston played with the kids Tuesday. Proctor, the pitcher, threw harder when Scott was up, but the Republican congressman smacked the ball around anyway. After the game, Scott told the kids he would have quit high school if somebody hadn’t encouraged him to keep trying.

“In life you don’t have to be perfect,” he said. “If you don’t quit, no matter what comes your way, you will win in the end.”

Scott brought three members of the 1955 Cannon Street YMCA All Star Team: Gus Holt, Vermont Brown and Leroy Major. They qualified for the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., that year but couldn’t play because they were black. In the 1990s they were featured in Sports Illustrated and on ESPN. They also urged the kids to keep on trying.