Reds thankful for Bryant's tireless work

Reds thankful for Bryant's tireless work

Reds thankful for Bryant's tireless work
CINCINNATI -- It was 5 p.m. on a recent Wednesday when Paulette Bryant arrived at the Gamble Montessori School gym on the heels of finishing work at one of her two jobs.

Paulette was visibly a little worn out, but had no doubt that her second wind was imminent. The Reds' Urban Youth Academy softball instructor was nearing practice time in a room of about two dozen girls.

"This is motivation to me," Paulette said. "I come in here tired. By the time I leave here, I'm so hyped. I feel a lot better when I leave than I do when I come in. It's like going to the gym to workout. You're refreshed. That's the way that I feel about softball and always have."

Paulette, who also has another gig in the spring as the head coach of the girls softball team at Taft High School, is one of several volunteer instructors the Reds are thankful to have each year in both the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program and Urban Youth Academy (UYA), which kicked off its third year last month.

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Operated by the Reds Community Fund, the Urban Youth Academy provides free baseball and softball instruction to otherwise underserved boys and girls from ages 8-18. The academy is operating four nights a week this year and also offers weekend hours.

Just because the Reds have put their mind and muscle behind outreach efforts such as this, success isn't a guarantee. It takes boots on the ground and plenty of volunteers from within the community with a commitment to reach the kids that need to be reached the most.

It takes someone like Paulette Bryant.

"It's basically giving back to the youth and being able to be a mentor to the kids and give them something a little more than softball," said Paulette, who was joined by three other volunteer coaches/instructors for the practice.

Playing, teaching or coaching softball is something Paulette has done in some capacity for almost 35 years. A former outfielder, playing the game helped draw an admittedly introverted young Kentucky girl out of her shell to make friends and discover confidence in her abilities.

Paulette was one of the original coaches of the Cincinnati RBI program in the late 1990s. She has done it all while trying to earn a living with her regular jobs and raising her daughter, PaLaura Parker, now 19.

And if life wasn't busy enough, Paulette also finds time to serve as a youth minister for teenage girls.

"My dream was to be a teacher. I never quite made it," Paulette said. "I didn't get through college to get a degree. On the other hand, I am still teaching the game of softball. Through teaching the game, I can also teach the life skills, and that's all a part of the makeup of things I want to do."

Those life skills aren't simply taught between the lines while holding a bat or glove. Paulette has made herself available to kids at all hours for all types or reasons, whether they are her players from Taft, the RBI program or the UYA. She has worked to keep girls out of fights or away from bad influences, and counsels them on relationships and sexual abstinence.

There have been girls who have asked for a few dollars to pay for their phone cards or a need for school. If Paulette has the money, she tries to help. She is friends with several of her players on Facebook, and isn't afraid to drop them a note if she sees something she doesn't like.

"They respect that, because I've always been the same to them," Paulette said. "I've always been a no-nonsense person, and they know it. A whole lot of them haven't had that. Not only do they call me Coach P, they call me Mama P. At any given day, I don't know what I am except for P. But it's all good because they look at me as a mother figure as well as a coach. That really makes me feel good.

"These girls don't always have the structure or the support from their parents or anything. If they knew better, they would do better. But because they don't know any better, they don't do any better. Often times, it gives me the opportunity to be able to basically minister to the kids. That's what I want to do. I can walk the walk and talk the talk. They know I do that. Therefore, they tend to listen and grasp it a little better."

The Reds Community Fund has certainly noticed the effort. In September, it gave Paulette the Owen Wrassman Award for extraordinary community service.

"She really is unique," said Charley Frank, executive director of the Reds Community Fund. "She's not only very skilled in her ability to teach the game and not just extremely passionate about the game having lived it and used it as a way to move forward in her life, but she is someone who knows the history of RBI in our community. She saw the program when it was literally run by community volunteers. Now she is contributing mightily to it in a time when the Reds are much more engaged. She brings to us a history and understanding of where the program has been."

No one has grasped Paulette's lessons of softball, life and giving back more than PaLaura. By growing up under the same roof and having the same gift for athletics, it was probably unavoidable.

After her skills were noticed by another area coach as an eight-year-old, PaLaura was picked for traveling youth softball teams and competed in tournaments around the country. By the time she reached Shroder High School in Cincinnati, there was no girls softball team. PaLaura instead played varsity boys baseball for four years and was the starting second baseman her senior year.

"I told her never let anyone stop you from doing what you want to do," Paulette said. "Just because they're boys doesn't mean you can't contend with them. You're good."

PaLaura was also a product of the Cincinnati RBI softball program and captained the East regional team that just missed qualifying for the regional finals. During her senior year, she earned a scholarship through the accounting firm -- and national RBI program sponsor -- KPMG.

"We had someone in our midst that not only knew how to seize that opportunity, but actually won one of the scholarship," Frank said. "It was one of the other elements that connected us to this family. It tells you a lot about both Paulette and PaLaura. They put education at such a high priority that they will do anything they can in terms of work ethic. Paulette not only assisted her daughter, but also worked with us to assist other kids with their application process. Not that we needed that scholarship to realize that these are two remarkable people, but it framed everything in a much different perspective."

Paulette currently works as an administrative assistant for the Cincinnati Sentinel Police Association, and also works nights as a telemarketer, a job she took to help put PaLaura through college. PaLaura recently transferred from playing at Ohio Christian University to Kentucky State University, an NCAA Division II program.

PaLaura is also following in her mother's footsteps as a coach. One season after captaining her RBI team as a player, she helped coach on a newly formed junior RBI softball program last summer.

It's volunteerism that spans two generations. Paulette isn't finished coming up with ways to help young girls become productive women in the world.

"If I really had an opportunity, I would open a girls shelter," Paulette said. "That would be my real life's dream -- for the kids that just need the love. They just need to know somebody loves them. I believe strongly that all kids want to do good. I believe it with all my heart."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.