Academics and Athletics = Success at The Base

By Dakota Antelman

Robert Lewis expects the athletes he and his staff members mentor at his program — The Base — to be much more than athletes – he expects them to be successful students. By combining academic lessons and baseball, Lewis is working to send Boston’s African-American and Latino students to college.

Located in Roxbury, The Base was created as “a place for Boston’s youth to belong.” Lewis and the staff he personally recruited tutor and provide test prep and college application assistance to students. The staff also train and coach the student-athletes to participate in national and local games and tournaments. However, Lewis’ primary goal is to send student-athletes to college.

“Six to seven percent of black and Latino boys in America graduate college. That is unacceptable for anyone,” Lewis said, pounding the table in front of him to emphasize his statement. “We cannot live in a place that is the United States of America where a population of folks don’t get access when another population does.”

Lewis said he seeks to balance the inequality by providing his student-athletes with the skills to excel in both high school and college. He has an army of teachers and alumni to help him.

“My job is to be directly involved in all of the students’ schools in the program and provide services they need,” said Mario Austin, the academic and admissions specialist at The Base. “We just work on being almost a surrogate parent as well. We go to graduations, we’re there in guidance [counselor offices], we go to schools.”

Lewis started The Base in the late 1970s as the Boston Astros. He always sought to further college opportunities for his student-athletes.  This year, The Base was given a $50,000 grant by Gov. Charlie Baker to support the program. Lewis added that the grant, as well as coverage from Boston media, has also allowed him to secure scholarships from colleges and universities for his student-athletes.

The Base doesn’t actively recruit students. Lewis said students show up at the Walnut Avenue headquarters, sometimes brought by others who are in the program. However, he doesn’t accept everyone. Students must “earn their spot,” Lewis said.

Academics are at the core of The Base’s mission. Even though the organization boasts a national champion baseball team, it pursues academic scholarships for the students rather than athletic.

“We don’t go for athletic scholarships because those can be taken away if the coach doesn’t like you or you get hurt or something,” Austin said. “Academics can be hard to get taken away.”

Students in the program understand the importance of academics. A large portion of their love for Lewis stems from how much he and his staff have helped them with test scores and GPA.

“If you don’t get your education in, you don’t get to play baseball,” said Miguel Lorenzo, a student-athlete at The Base. “Some of the guys come here thinking that baseball is everything, but that’s not it. It’s baseball and school up at the college level.”

Lewis said he wants his student-athletes to excel socially, academically and athletically.While he acknowledges equality has not yet been achieved, he believes The Base is helping to create a culture without barriers for urban youth.

“If you look at urban America, our folks know how to get to wakes and funeral homes, but they don’t know the addresses to admissions offices of local colleges,” Lewis said. “I’m shattering that. I’m creating a new paradigm of change.”

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