Ernest Radcliffe has dedicated his life to helping kids through sports.
Jan. 13 was like any other Saturday. Radcliffe was getting ready around 6 p.m. to head to the University of Illinois-Chicago’s indoor facility for practice with his travel team, The Show Baseball.
As he loaded the last boxes of apparel and equipment into the car in Woodlawn, Radcliffe turned to see two men jump out from a Kia. One got into Radcliffe’s vehicle while the other had his hand inside his hoodie, conveying to Radcliffe that he possessed a weapon. Radcliffe backed away and they drove off with the car, taking all of the baseball equipment in the process.
Within hours, news of the carjacking had spread within the community. The car, which belonged to Radcliffe’s daughter, was found roughly 36 hours later in good condition. Radcliffe believes someone tipped law enforcement about the vehicle’s location when people heard it had been taken from him.
However, Radcliffe’s baseball equipment was not found in the recovered car.
When youth scouting company Perfect Game heard what happened, the organization reached out to Radcliffe and wanted to replace the stolen items. On Wednesday, Radcliffe received 28 boxes of baseballs, including four boxes of Perfect Game-branded high school baseballs, as well as 10 Perfect Game buckets with lids and two fungo bats.
“I was truly amazed they made contact with me. I was shocked,” Radcliffe told the Tribune. “They wanted to step in and help. What a tremendous organization.”
Perfect Game hosts youth baseball and softball events across the country. Commissioner Dennis Gilbert has long championed youth sports, both in his current job and as a special assistant to White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who started the Amateur City Elite (ACE) program in conjunction with the organization.
“We are the biggest amateur supporters of helping kids, education and bringing baseball back,” Gilbert told the Tribune. “Youth baseball is really, really important to America, and I’m horrified personally, as most people are, every time we hear about carjacking — but Perfect Game can do what they can do.
“We’re here to help the youth of tomorrow.”
Radcliffe, 60, began coaching in 1997 and in 2016 started The Show Baseball travel program, which features six age levels and 100 players. He also runs the Southside Wolfpack, a youth football program established in 1997, for 220 kids. His wife, Tonya, works with 60 cheerleaders as part of the Ladye Wolves cheer and dance squad.
“Youth sports save lives,” Radcliffe said. “If you can capture the youth at an early age, if you can get them into programs early, 5, 6 years old, and the parents keep them in programs, they’re going to be successful young men and young ladies. Their grades are going to be pretty good. They’ve got the grades to stay on the team. You get a chance to instill some discipline and camaraderie and build character.
“Those things are definitely needed, especially in this day and time with all the shootings and carjackings and robbing. A lot of those young people need to be in a positive environment. You can’t save them all, but you will be able to get to a lot of them.”
Radcliffe was inspired from a young age to get involved in sports, particularly baseball, because of his family. His uncles, Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe and Alex Radcliffe, were stars in the Negro Leagues during the 1930s and 1940s, and his dad put him in the sport.
Radcliffe’s playing career led him to Central State University, where the St. Louis Cardinals selected him in the 20th round of the 1986 MLB draft. He played three seasons of minor-league ball.
Radcliffe’s transition to coaching began at a Southside YMCA, and his career took off from there. In addition to his youth sports work, Radcliffe has served as the head baseball coach at Morgan Park High School since 2008 after spending the previous 11 years in the same position at Hyde Park High School. Radcliffe was inducted into the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame this month.
“It’s been tremendous to watch the young men develop, play a game that I love and play at a high level,” Radcliffe said. “It’s a true joy to watch the guys play and move on and go to college and get their degrees.”
Radcliffe’s vision to grow youth sports and get more kids involved continues to expand. He wants to add Little League 7-and-under and 10-and-under teams to The Show Baseball to create 30 more spots as well as 12-and-under and 13-and-under football teams for the Southside Wolfpack to add 30 more kids at each level. Radcliffe also has talked to Morgan Park about creating a drum line for kids who don’t play sports but might be interested in music.
“I just want to try to give as many young people the opportunity to be part of something positive as possible,” Radcliffe said.