University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Reds Partnership Creates Fun, Educational Opportunities for Urban Youth

Cincinnati Reds’ Urban Youth Academy Helps Drive Youth Development

student playing catch at urban youth academy

Using baseball and softball as the exciting “hook,” The Cincinnati Reds’ Urban Youth Academy  (UYA) educates students about more than just America’s favorite pastime. Since 2011, the Reds and University of Cincinnati have partnered to develop and implement educational programming for the UYA, which offers free clinics for urban children ages 8-18 to support baseball appreciation, skill development, and educational achievement.

“The UYA helps meet the needs of students, reinforcing how to problem solve, support themselves, and make meaning of their lives,” said Emilie Camp, field service assistant professor, program coordinator for UC’s middle childhood program, and co-director of UC’s Center for Hope & Justice Education. “The UYA also brings in Freedom Writers methods and offers UC’s School of Education students opportunities to do field work experience and tutor students.”

The Freedom Writers Diary, which was written in 1999 by Woodrow Wilson Classical High School students in Long Beach, California, and coordinated by teacher Erin Gruwell, is the inspiration for the UYA’s educational curriculum. The title is a play on the term Freedom Riders, the civil rights activists who transformed the civil rights movement and challenged the lack of enforcement of desegregation in 1961.  

Written and adapted by Megan Kreaps, MS ’14, the UYA curriculum focuses on Freedom Writers-inspired literacy initiatives that support social justice and engage students through a variety of speaking and writing activities, including poetry, journaling, and storytelling. Woven into the fun and excitement of the UYA program is quality educational programing.

group learning about baseball

“I adapted the Freedom Writer’s curriculum for the younger age group of our students and included themes of baseball and softball,” Kreaps said. “Two key activities are ‘Diamond Talk,’ which is a community building activity and ‘Questioning the Call,’ which is a structured debate.”

The concept of check-in buddies was also added this year, providing opportunities for students to work informally with academic coaches – UC School of Education students – on goal setting and skill development.  

“UYA students are excited to debate in a structured way,” Kreaps said. “One debate topic was about whether kids should be allowed to have electronics before the age of 12. They completed the debate respectfully, showing that these experiences are important and get students excited about learning and considering other viewpoints.”

Charley Frank, executive director of the Reds Community Fund, who founded the partnership with former UC Center for Hope & Justice Education Director Mark Kohan four years ago, emphasizes the focus that the program has on youth development.

Just one of numerous success stories resulting from the UYA program, two UYA participants recently won college scholarships from Major League Baseball, which is a highly competitive award.

“Our partnership with UC has allowed our program to become much more dimensional,” said Frank. “It’s a perfect fit with our Red’s Community Fund, which is dedicated to improving the lives of youth.” 

The academy operates on a year-round basis under the direction of the Reds Community Fund and offers an indoor facility for youth teams to utilize during the winter months. The UYA will be housed in a new location this year in the Roselawn community, which has both indoor and outdoor facilities. With the new location, the UYA anticipates an increase in attendance and strives to continue to strengthen its partnerships.

student at bat at urban youth academy

“Cincinnati has so much potential for tapping into the community and supporting our youth here,” Camp said. “The Reds Community Fund is recognized nationally for having strong outreach and partnerships. The strength of the Reds Community Fund lends itself to strong programming for the community.”

Frank underscored the support UC has provided over the years. “Everyone from Dean Johnson on down has been essential to the growth and establishment of the program. And while we will miss Mark Kohan and Megan Kreaps – our two stalwarts – we are excited for what the future holds.”  Kohan has relocated to the east coast, but his vision and work will continue through Camp, Frank, and others involved in the partnership.

Despite Kreaps’ recent graduation from UC with her Master’s in Literacy and Second Language Studies and the end of her graduate assistant position with UC’s Center for Hope & Justice Education, she remains actively involved in education and social justice initiatives. As a volunteer for the Ohio Student Association (OSA), Kreaps is part of a grassroots movement among young people organizing for political power and developing youth leaders.

“We believe every person deserves the right to a quality education,” Kreaps said of the OSA. “There are many students and nonstudents involved, including seven UC students who participated in a fellowship program to learn about community organizing and social justice.”

With this summer being the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer 1964, OSA and organizations across the U.S. are coming together to celebrate the progress that has been made but also push for continued movement toward a more just world. As part of this, OSA is implementing a Freedom Summer Project to increase awareness of and engage more people in issues of educational inequality and social justice.

They have created Freedom Hubs across Ohio that will serve as homes for community building, social justice education, and civic engagement programs. Currently focused on voter engagement and voter rights issues, the OSA will have many opportunities to volunteer and get involved. If you are interested in getting involved or learning more, join them on July 12 for the Cincinnati Community Engagement Day, which will include canvassing, discussions, and a potluck. To be a part of the July 12 event, please contact Megan Kreaps at and for more general information, please visit