Only a Game? No, It’s Much More

By United Way of King County, on March 28, 2024 | In Helping Students Graduate, News

The Mariners weren’t the only local team summoned to “Play ball!” this week as Major League Baseball’s 2024 season began on Opening Day. Baseball Beyond Borders, a Kent-based youth development organization, combines sports with academics to empower student-athletes to pursue their passions year-round, on and off the field.

Baseball Beyond Borders teaches life skills through sports and helps student-athletes and their families navigate the college access process and prepare them for life after the 12th grade. The program involves students in both local games and excursions well beyond King County.

Baseball Beyond Boarders is a member of the Black Community Building Collective, a group of 14 Black-led organizations that United Way of King County brought together to build relationships, share best practices, and implement strategies with United Way funding. United Way thanks Brighton Jones for sponsoring the Black Community Building Collective.

As the MLB starts the 2024 campaign, we sat down with Baseball Beyond Borders founder Bookie Gates for a conversation about the program’s recent and upcoming events and his involvement with the King County Play Coalition, which promotes physical activity for area youth.

United Way of King County: What events and programs have Baseball Beyond Boarders had this year? Any spring training visits?

Bookie Gates: At Baseball Beyond Borders, or BBB, we aim to transform lives and communities by empowering youth to connect their passion for baseball with their academic future. Through our holistic approach, we create a brighter, more equitable future, one student-athlete at a time.  Most recently, with the support of Vault 89 Ventures and Delta Airlines, BBB journeyed with a group of its student-athletes to Spring Training in Arizona. 

This trip served as an opportunity to allow our kids to dream about what is possible. They met some of their favorite Mariners, like Julio Rodriguez, JP Crawford, and Samad Taylor. In addition to meeting the players, the student-athletes took batting practice on a spring training field and sat in the radio booth with [Seattle Mariners broadcasters] Dave Sims and Rick Rizz. To finish out the trip, the student-athletes participated in a tournament to showcase their skills learned from Mariners players and coaches. 

United Way of King County: What’s up next for the student-athletes?

Bookie Gates: Our next trip will be going to Jackson, MS for our annual Reconciliation Tour in June. This trip will feature a baseball and softball camp at Jackson State University in partnership with the John & Vera Mae Perkins Foundation. This trip will also have student-athletes from Seattle visit Selma, AL, and finish off in Montgomery, AL, with a tour of the Equal Justice Initiative Museum and Memorial. This trip explores our past and the impacts of racial terror and trauma. It also brings healing as we use play as a vehicle to promote our well-being.  

United Way of King County: And this year, Baseball Beyond Borders is hosting the Nike RBI West Regional! When will you be looking for volunteers for that event?

Bookie Gates: BBB is excited to bring back the Nike Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, or Nike RBI, West Regional Tournament to Seattle in 2024. This tournament is one of eight across the country that showcases Nike RBI programs, with the champions from each region advancing to the Nike RBI World Series in Vero Beach, FL.  This year, games will be played in South King County, utilizing schools and parks within the cities of Auburn and Kent.  We are always looking for volunteers for this event. If you’re interested. email

Baseball Beyond Borders founder Bookie Gates

United Way of King County: Today, the home MLB team opens its season with the Boston Red Sox. What are some new ventures or outings you’ve had with the Mariners?

Bookie Gates: A collective effort we will embark on with the Seattle Mariners is a Hometown 9, or HT9, League.  This developmental league will kick off in the fall and will support kids at the middle school level, where we see the steepest drop in baseball/softball participation. We are in the planning phases and will have more information we can share with the public very soon. We are excited to continue our impact in providing needed resources and opportunities for baseball and softball access. Visit to learn more.

United Way of King County: Lastly, will you please tell us more about your involvement with the King County Pay Equity Coalition?

Bookie Gates: The King County Play Equity Coalition is a collective initiative focused on addressing systemic barriers to physical activity among youth in the Seattle-King County area. It operates through a network of organizations united in their mission to enhance health and youth development by promoting access to sports and recreational activities. This coalition seeks to challenge existing systems and shift societal perspectives to prioritize physical activity as a cornerstone of youth well-being.

A key finding that is driving the coalition’s efforts is that only a fraction of King County’s youth meets the recommended levels of physical activity, with disparities particularly affecting boys, girls, non-English speaking households, lower-income families, youth of color, and those with disabilities. These gaps in physical activity participation are attributed to various systemic barriers, including inadequate access to resources and programming that could support active lifestyles among all youth.

In response, the coalition has spearheaded initiatives to improve equitable access to physical activities, which have been informed by comprehensive analysis and community input. Their approach includes empowering schools as centers for physical activity, developing transportation solutions to facilitate access to sports programs, and launching public health campaigns aimed at encouraging youth physical activity.


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