Founder of inner-city youth baseball program honored with Jefferson Award

Founder of inner-city youth baseball program honored with Jefferson Award

March 30th, 2011 by Carey O'Neil in News

Keith Landecker wipes a tear from his face Tuesday while being interviewed after the Jefferson Awards lunch at the Sheraton Road House Hotel. Landecker won the award for creating a baseball league for kids over the age of 12. Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press

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GET INVOLVED

Radio veteran Keith Landecker won Chattanooga's Jefferson Award for founding an inner-city baseball league and the Tennessee Express baseball team. The league is in constant need of coaches, umpires and mentors. To get involved, email Landecker@Power94.com.

Those looking to play baseball are also welcome to email Landecker or join the league's weekly camp every Saturday at Tyner Academy's field from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.

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 were taken until this month, when a local committee selected five honorees' stories and submitted them to award officials in Washington, D.C. Those officials chose local inner-city baseball league founder Keith Landecker to represent Chattanooga for the national Jefferson Awards banquet.

Since 1972, the awards have been presented on the local and national levels. Each year a national winner is selected in four categories: elected or public officials, private citizens, people benefiting the disadvantaged and individuals 35 or younger.

AWARDS BANQUET

Click here for more information on the awards banquet.

AWARD FINALISTS

* Mike Brumlow - Chief of the Sequoyah Volunteer Fire Department

* Herb Cohn -Volunteer greeter at Erlanger hospital

* Carlos Dempsey - Has donated bikes to thousands of needy children over 27 years

* Tommie Erwin - Back-to-school fundraiser and Candlelighters Foundation organizer

* Eddie Holms - Chattanooga Housing Authority board chairman, deacon at New United Missionary Baptist Church

* Johnny Jennings - Raised more than $300,000 for the Georgia Baptist Children's Home

* Bobby Radford - Volunteered with Soddy-Daisy Food Bank for 16 years

* Kaylee Radzyminski - Founded Tunes 4 the Troops, a charity that has sent $2 million in CDs and DVDs to soldiers

* Wendy Ransom - Founded Emily's Fight for a Cure and raised almost $700,000 to cure neuroblastoma, the disease that took her young daughter's life

* Jim Rogers - Prepared and delivered food to the needy for Christ's Chapel Share and Care Mission since 1999

* Jim Samples - Helped develop Chattanooga CARES, an HIV/AIDS clinic serving thousands annually

While some Chattanooga teens are donning red, blue and other colors denoting gangs, one local man is working to get kids in a different kind of uniform.

"When I take my boys to the other fields and they've got their uniforms on, you should see the look on the kids' faces," said Keith Landecker, founder of a local inner-city baseball league and the Tennessee Express baseball team. "Uniform day is the best day ever."

Eight years ago, Landecker realized baseball wasn't offered to local inner-city teens and started a league to continue the sport. Since then, the league has grown to serve about 100 kids.

On Tuesday, the WJTT/Power 94 radio host fought to hold back tears as he was honored as this year's recipient of the Chattanooga Jefferson Award.

"These kids are not gang members. They're good kids," he said. "They work hours and hours and hours doing the right thing and we keep telling them, if you do the right thing, good things will happen for you."

The award, called the "Nobel Prize for public service" by award officials, is given monthly on a local level. At the end of 12 months, a recipient is chosen from those winners to go to Washington, D.C., to represent Chattanooga in the national competition.

"The kids are going to be blown away," he said. "That's what this is all about."

Landecker is quick to point out the importance of volunteers to the success of his program and the community in general.

Chattanooga has a thriving volunteer community, he said, as evidenced by the 11 other Jefferson Award nominees and about 250 volunteers and supporters who attended Tuesday's ceremony.

"The other nominees, I am humbled in your presence," Landecker said. "I don't even think I should be here."

His wife didn't think so either, Landecker joked. While the two listened to the accomplishments of other finalists, she leaned in and whispered that she thought another candidate would be headed to Washington.

But when her husband's name was announced, Cathy Baker was as excited as anyone.

"I'm extremely proud," she said. "He's always been civic-minded and involved in the community."

Carlos Dempsey, one of the finalists Landecker beat out, has donated bikes to children for 27 years. He said he was happy for Landecker and felt proud to be recognized as a finalist in a community with so many dedicated volunteers.

"One thing Chattanooga's known for is many people try to help other people without wanting the recognition," he said. "It just makes you feel good to help somebody."

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