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Cohen, Bulldogs work with at-risk youth


Matthew Stevens



STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State University baseball coach John Cohen and his wife, Nelle, are proud of their daughters Jordan Baker and Avery Lawson. 


However, the Bulldogs' fifth-year coach joked Monday that it was refreshing to speak to kids who were always willing or able to listen.  


"I look back at my time as a dad sometimes and I remember being absent an awful lot," Cohen said. "I love speaking to kids and young people because I can remember in one job out of 52 weeks of the year, I was gone for 45 of them. When I'd get home, they'd be asleep or gone, so I missed out on some things with my own daughters." 


Cohen and eight of his baseball players talked and worked with those young people Monday at the College Day Experience for the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation at-risk youth program at the Palmeiro Center. 


The event featured campus tours, organized baseball games with the MSU baseball team, and guest speakers, including MSU President Dr. Mark Keenum and Cohen. 


The Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation, which was founded in 2001 by the Hall of Famer in honor of his father, uses baseball- and softball-themed programs to help build character and to teach life lessons to under-served children residing in America's most distressed communities. 


Cohen's message to the group sounded more like a recruiting pitch than a inspirational speech. He encouraged each child to "find a skill and perfect it." 


"Here's the cool thing about a skill," Cohen said. "Nobody can take it away from you, and somebody in this country has to eventually pay you for your ability to use that skill, whatever it is." 


The Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation worked with Keswick Advisors to perform an annual, independent evaluation of its national Badges for Baseball program in 2009, 2010, and 2011. Dr. Jeffrey L. Sedgwick, a former professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and former assistant attorney general of the United States, founded Keswick Advisors. The advisors evaluated changes in the behavior of youth who participated in the Badges for Baseball program. Cohen hopes he and his players provided a positive message that motivates the children to stay focused in school and to develop a skill that they can refine and use in their professional lives. 


"I think anytime you get to speak to people that young you're making a difference in their lives," Cohen said. "Sometimes I feel like I say this all the time, but when we recruit a player, we have to know their background and character fit for our program is already set by them and their parents." 






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