Keith Landecker is known to many Chattanoogans as the afternoon voice of WJTT-Power 94 radio, but about 100 children in his baseball league call him "coach" and "Dad."
"He is the guy who shows up to their special events at school," said Rebecca Styles, director of special projects for Brewer Broadcasting, which owns WJTT-FM.
Styles nominated Landecker, founder and coach of an inner-city baseball league and the Tennessee Express baseball team, for the local Jefferson Award. He is the nominee for December.
Fellow coach Al Frias said Landecker goes beyond expectations to make sure youngsters who want to play baseball have the opportunity.
Landecker comes to the practice field with his own 14-year-old son and five other kids because he's driven all over town picking them up, Frias said. Landecker practices baseball with them, counsels and feeds them, then takes them back home. And he sends a few of them to his wife, a local schoolteacher, for tutoring.
"If that isn't the essence of community service, I don't know what is," Frias said.
"He's a great coach, the best coach I've had," said 14-year-old Christian Amos, a ninth-grader at Soddy-Daisy High School.
Christian is one of many team members who hopes to play professional baseball and believes Landecker can help him do it.
"He got me to where I am today," Christian said. "He's a father figure. He is really close to me and he knows pretty much everything about baseball."
Landecker started the league this summer after seeing several children who had played baseball with Chattanooga Parks and Recreation age out of the program when they turned 13.
"We had all of these boys since they were 8 and 9 years old. We just didn't see us turning them out," said Landecker, who coached some Parks and Recreation teams. "We had to create this league. If we didn't, there would have been nowhere for them to go."
Visit www.timesfreepress.com or www.WRCBTV.com to fill out an online nomination form.
Pick up a nomination form at any First Tennessee Bank location and deliver, mail or fax to: Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401, fax: 423-668-5001.
ABOUT THE AWARDS
The Jefferson Awards were restarted locally in May by the Chattanooga Times Free Press, WRCB-TV and First Tennessee Bank.
Monthly award nominations will be taken until March 2011. One award winner will be chosen to represent Chattanooga at the national Jefferson Awards banquet in Washington, D.C. National winners are named in four categories: elected or public officials, private citizens, people benefiting the disadvantaged and individuals 35 or younger.
Many teens are tempted with gangs, drugs and other activities that could get them in trouble, he said.
Landecker operates The Tennessee Express, Fall Ball Team and a baseball clinic. The Tennessee Express includes youth who are ready to be showcased to college coaches. The Fall Ball team is made of youths who have some experience playing and the clinic trains youth who have raw talent, Landecker said.
His group league plays on the field at Tyner Middle Academy and gets teams from Trenton, Ga.; North Jackson, Ala.; and Cleveland, Tenn., to play against them.
Landecker said he focuses on teaching the boys baseball fundamentals and discipline. He and Frias also are among the main financial supporters for the league.
Landecker said he has no idea of how much it cost to run the team.
"All I know is I get my income tax check and that's what I use," he said. He estimates that he spent about $6,000 on the team this summer, but he says Frias also gave money for the team.
"We've been told 'no' by so many people, we just did it on our own," Landecker said.
They paid for umpires, uniforms, insurance, equipment, food and gas.
Landecker tried buying drinks and setting up a concession stand to raise money for uniforms, but the idea didn't work because when thirsty kids came with no money, Landecker gave away the drinks, Frias said.
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or 423-757-6431.