Cooper Kinney '21 (left), now in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, instructs a young baseball player at a Southside Youth Development clinic.
When Cooper Kinney ’21 was named Gatorade’s baseball Player of the Year for Tennessee last spring, he earned $1,000 for a charity of his choice and was allowed to nominate that charity for an extra $10,000 spotlight grant provided by the Gatorade Play It Forward campaign. Kinney was notified in August that his nomination of the Southside Youth Development (SYD) has won one of the 12 national grants.
“I wanted to share the exciting news that, thanks to Cooper’s wonderful video submission, Southside Youth Development is the recipient of our $10,000 National Grant Prize on behalf of our Gatorade Player of the Year Play It Forward Spotlight Grant for Boys Baseball,” said Gatorade spokesperson Bonnie Block in an email to Jon Johnson, program organizer at SYD and baseball coach at Howard High School. “This is in addition to the $1,000 grant donation Cooper has already made in your honor. Schwab will be fulfilling this grant and sending your organization the check on behalf of Cooper and the Gatorade Player of the Year Play It Forward Grant Program.”
Under Johnson’s leadership, Southside Youth Development seeks to positively impact youth from historically marginalized communities in Chattanooga through athletics and character development. The foundation is responsible for the recent reconditioning of the baseball field at the Emma Wheeler Homes community and several youth baseball clinics at the Howard baseball field as well as AT&T Field, the home of the Chattanooga Lookouts.
Johnson lives out the mission of SYD and believes that participation in sports offers a unique opportunity to develop grit and character within the hearts and minds of our youth, and says he was incredibly grateful for the original $1,000 grant that Kinney’s award provided. “When I received news that we won the $10,000 National Grant Prize, I was astounded!” he adds. “These funds will be utilized to purchase more baseball equipment and continue to improve the baseball field at Emma Wheeler Homes in the downtown Chattanooga area. Our coaches and volunteers firmly believe that one adult can make a lifelong impact in a child’s life through mentorship along with allowing opportunities for education, experiences, and exposure - providing a vision for what could be and should be for their lives.”
Kinney led Baylor to a third straight state championship this spring and signed a professional contract with the Tampa Bay Rays this summer after being selected in the first round, the 34th pick overall, in the Major League Baseball draft.
“I could not be more excited that Gatorade and Play It Forward chose Southside Youth Development for their grant,” said Kinney from the Rays’ training camp in Port Charlotte, Fla. “They are doing such great work and providing such a special opportunity for the youth in the community. I am thankful that I have had the chance to get to know Jon and be a part of Southside Youth. They are deserving of this award and will be able to use this to further their program. I am also thankful for the Gatorade Player of the Year Play it Forward initiative for investing in programs like this that positively impact their communities.”