Seven months after holding its annual ceremony virtually due to pandemic precautions, the Academic Excellence Team, part of Major League Baseball’s Compton Youth Academy, held its in-person memorial ceremony Saturday at the Compton Youth Academy. The tradition rewards student-athletes who had a GPA of 3.2 or higher.
The Compton Youth Academy provides underrepresented student-athletes a platform to play baseball and softball. Rocky Gholson, the academy’s educational coordinator, developed the AET in 2016.
“I want them all to feel above average, which is why I call it excellence,” Gholson said. “I told them, ‘Remember, you’re not just normal people. Everyone who sits in front of us today has received excellence in what you do in school.’ And we weren’t just rewarding them for their grades, but we were rewarding them for their efforts during the pandemic.”
The AET awards recognize baseball and softball players in grades 6-12 who have maintained good grades during the candidate school semester. A total of 70 students were honored at the 2022 virtual ceremony. Awards are given based on GPA and are assigned an AET Achievement Category: Athletes with a GPA of 3.2-3.49 are listed as ” Shooting Stars”, 3.5 to 3.99 GPA are “All Stars” and 4.0 or more are “Super Stars”. ”
Mahki Backstrom was on the program before being drafted by the Braves in 2019. Three years later, his brother Hunter Backstrom earned the same honor.
The Backstrom brothers are just one of the successful sibling stories to come out of AET, and the motivational pipeline continues for other kids from all backgrounds.
Dominic Smith, drafted by the Mets with the 11th overall pick in 2013, came through Compton Youth Academy, and Kelvin Bender, drafted by the Brewers in ’19, started with AET when the program was just getting started.
The academy offers young black athletes the opportunity to play baseball, and the excellence team teaches them the importance of education and the impact that going to university can have on their lives after the match is stopped.
“Potentially 99% of the people who were sitting in front of me on Saturday, talking about academic and athletic excellence, aren’t going to the pros, and I have to tell them that to their face,” Gholson said. “But the thing is, you can all go to college. Every single one of you. There’s a college that will take you, but you have to want it.”
The experiences of student-athletes can impact their career trajectory, whether in baseball, softball or beyond, but MLB’s youth academies and AET provide them with an opportunity that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.
“My goal is to plant seeds that will grow one day in your life,” Gholson said. “I tell them to put this on their resume when they graduate, tell them [admissions officers or hiring personnel] that you were a member of the MLB Youth Academy and the Academic Excellence Team, and tell people about your achievement.”