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Softball Helps Draw Kids Away From Gangs

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A softball league helps draw some young people away from gangs. (CBS)

A softball league helps draw some young people away from gangs. (CBS)

CHICAGO (CBS) — In a community all too familiar with gunfire, the sound of softball is a signal of peace.

As part of CBS 2’s week-long look at breaking the cycle of violence in Chicago, Dorothy Tucker reports on a different kind of game that brings calm to residents in Austin.

It may look like your everyday softball game, but it’s anything but that.

The teams include Vice Lords. There are Latin Kings. Spanish Cobras. Maniac Latin Disciples.

Some of them represent rival gangs that have been known to kill each other over drugs.

But for a few hours every Wednesday in the Austin neighborhood, these men put conflicts aside and just play ball. It’s a league sponsored by a community group called BUILD.

One player, Hector Rodriguez, is asked why gangs cannot put conflicts outside baseball aside.

“You know there are some kids that are stubborn,’ he said. “It’s just, you know, how they were brought up.”

But the game still serves a purpose. It attracts teens like Rodriquez.

“I don’t know if I would have finished high school if it wasn’t for BUILD.”

Hector is not in a gang.

But he grew up with two brothers in different gangs.

He felt pressured to join one of them–until he found Build.

“He had an idea of what was right and wrong,” BUILD’s Danny Perez said. “What BUILD was able to do was reinforce the right and knowing that he didn’t have to follow the footsteps that his family had set.”

BUILD provides more than a baseball game once a week. Their services include tutoring, counseling and life skills.

Rodriguez has “just blossomed from a young man with no confidence, not looking someone in the eye to a young man going to college to do social work,” said Perez

BUILD serves more than 3,000 teens a year at its headquarters in Austin as well as satellite offices in 15 schools.

“Those guys were on me,” Rodriguez said. “They wanted me to succeed. And that’s why I’m going to succeed.”

Rodriguez just graduated from high school and plans to attend Harold Washington community college in the fall.

His dream is to be a police officer.

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