When recent Oklahoma Sooners softball graduate and pitcher Paige Parker was growing up in the Kansas City area, there was nothing like the Kansas City Urban Youth Academy. Literally. As in, nothing like that existed.
Ten years ago, when she was just 12, the National Pro Fastpitch team for which she now plays, USSSA Pride, wouldn’t exist for another year.
But less than two months into her pro softball career with the Pride, who are based in Viera, Fla., Parker found herself back in her hometown Tuesday morning, coaching a softball clinic at the Urban Youth Academy.
"It's fantastic — this facility is amazing,” she said. “I think it's just providing a really great opportunity for a lot of girls, and a lot of kids, to be able to play softball and baseball and have great opportunities through this program."
A Truman High graduate, Parker was part of two NCAA national championship teams at Oklahoma, and was drafted in the first round, sixth overall, by the Pride in 2018 NPF Draft.
Tuesday's morning clinic was coached jointly by members of the Pride and fellow NPF team Aussie Spirit, who are based out of St. Joseph, Mo. Approximately 35 kids were present for the hour-long event.
"I think it's huge to have the softball representation, professional players here," said Ashley Newman, softball program coordinator at the academy and former second baseman at Kansas. "These girls are so excited. They all came in their jerseys — they're excited to go."
Having Parker available at the clinic is an extra bonus for the academy. Her presence shows kids from this region that it’s possible to come out of this area and enjoy a successful college career, and perhaps more.
"Kansas City is somewhere to me that's very special and near and dear to my heart," Parker said. "So to be able to help the sport grow here is something that's very important to me."
Coaching outside during the heat of the day, Parker looked unaffected by temperatures that pushed into the mid 90s. Every youngster was attentive and listened when she talked, following her instructions and advice as they practiced collecting ground balls hit by Pride and Spirit players.
“For us to be able to come in here and work with these kids is awesome,” Parker said. "And I think just providing them the opportunity to be able to work with professional athletes is something that is awesome and a great opportunity for them, and a great opportunity for Kansas City to continue to be able to grow the sport."
While the Pride will soon return to Florida and continue to play around the country, having the Spirit close by gives the academy a chance to hold more softball clinics.
The clinics would be in addition to those already hosted by UMKC softball following their home games at the academy.
“I think the representation is great,” Newman said, “and we want people to know that no matter your background, no matter what you look like, no matter the income, softball is here and it’s a great opportunity no matter who you are."