I first met Greg “Goody” Goodwin in the late 1980s. He was sitting in a jury box in a Dekalb County, Georgia courtroom. He had been summoned to jury duty. It’s safe to say there were no volunteers in that jury box.
I was a young personal injury lawyer and had been pulled into a felony murder trial by a maintenance worker in the office tower where my law office was located. My specialty was negotiating “road wreck” cases and not maneuvering my clients away from a murder conviction under a “party to a crime” prosecution.
“Goody” was one of the few Black faces on the panel of citizens to be chosen to serve during this trial. He had a deep voice and a commanding presence. I figured if he made the cut, he would probably be the foreperson of the jury.
In questioning him, I quickly learned he was the head baseball coach at Redan High School in Decatur, Georgia. Redan High was beginning to make some noise in Georgia high school baseball circles. He had played collegiate baseball at Tennessee State University a few years after I had competed against TSU with my Tuskegee Institute teammates.
Although we disagreed over who had the best college baseball program, we clicked. He was selected to serve on the jury and after a week of testimony “Goody” stood up as foreperson of the jury to announce a guilty verdict against my client.
Following the trial he was gracious with his time and we retried the case for about an hour. We discussed the need to find ways to occupy the time of young Black men. We agreed to keep in touch.
Life just happens that way.
He went back to developing baseball skills and character in young men, sending many of them off to college and some into professional baseball. “Goody” captured several regional baseball crowns in the 1980s and most of them in the 1990s in AAAA Region 6.
In 1999, “Goody” was named the Dekalb County Coach of the Decade. In 2013, “Goody” had moved into administration at Redan, but they won the State Baseball Championship with an all Black team. The first time an all Black school had won a state title in Georgia baseball history.
Eventually I learned how to defend capital murder cases and would save five young Black men from “Old Sparky,” the name given to Georgia’s electric chair. In 1992, I took a group of five year old Black boys under my belt, organized the Homestead Grays Youth Baseball Club and committed to stick with them through college.
In 1999, this group of young men won the Sandy Koufax District Tournament in Georgia. Ninety-seven per cent of them earned either scholastic or athletic scholarships. Most of them are successful young men today.
Next year we will all get together and remember that 1999 campaign and discuss life lessons learned from that experience and what lessons need to be learned to navigate the first half of the 21st century.
After I closed my law practice, I started to write. Something I had done before going to law school. Also, I started following Black College Baseball again. To my surprise, I observed that few of the roster spots at HBCUs were filled by Black players. I started writing about Black College baseball.
Last year, a friend sent me a text about the Mentoring Viable Prospects (MVP) baseball showcase that was being held at the Georgia State University Baseball Stadium.
There was not enough time to apply for press credentials. I arrived at the gate and requested credentials on the spot. The gate attendant said he had to get approval from the organization’s president.
He called for the president to come to the gate.
The president turned out to be Greg Goodwin. We had not seen each other in 20 years, but immediately picked up where we had left the conversation 20 years ago out front of the Dekalb County Courthouse.
“Goody” has made good on his promise to find a way to command the attention of young people and to channel them in productive pursuits.
Twelve years before he retired from public education, “Goody” organized the MVP program with the aim of bringing Black baseball players to the attention of college coaches and professional scouts.
Not every player who comes through the MVP program ends up with a professional baseball contract, but they all have a hope and a dream that if they work hard, stay out of trouble, good things will come their way.
“Goody” is the glue that holds the MVP group together.
“It’s not about me,” he is quick to explain.
“It’s the volunteers. If it was not for the volunteers we would not be able to help these kids,” he said.
In the early days of MVP, local businessman Milton Sanders bankrolled the MVP Tournament. The non-profit group has a few corporate sponsors, but are in need of more.
In the meantime, the affable “Goody” has a loyal volunteer posse, including people he met 40 years ago as a student at TSU.
For instance, each July Reggie Bonner from McMinnville, Tennessee will load his grill on the back of his truck for the trek down to Decatur, Georgia. He will cook hot dogs, hamburgers, barbecue and fried fish for the spectators who flock to the games.
“Every year I get here on Tuesday. I have to get here early because Cisco don’t deliver our food. I have to go out and buy everything when I get here,” Bonner said.
“I put up tents, all of the signs and the banners. I get the stadium ready for the tournament,” he said.
Bonner met “Goody” in the dorm their freshman year at TSU. For the past 34 years he has worked for United Parcel Service (UPS) as a truck driver. He takes time off from work each year to cook for the concession stand, at no cost to MVP.
“We get a little help from a few corporate sponsors, but to make this thing go we depend on the gate receipts and the concessions to help us pull this event off for the kids each year,” Goody said.
“I’m just glad to help him out. I bring my son Chris down to help me. It’s my way of giving back,” Bonner said.
Another volunteer that MVP counts on every year is Curtis Burke, a former TSU baseball teammate of “Goody’s.”
Burke spent six years in the Houston Astros minor league system. He was the Astros’ first draft pick in 1981. The two players on the Astros board were Burke and Tony Gwynn. Burke got the nod over Gwynn because it was felt he was better suited for hitting in the Astrodome.
Burke helps out in the concession stand and is always willing to offer suggestions and encouragement to the young players.
Harry Sapp who coached at Redan is another annual volunteer. He operates the scoreboard and is a repository of baseball knowledge.
“For me it’s all about the kids,” Sapp said when queried about why he gives his time to MVP.
David Jackson, a special needs young man started volunteering his time when he was eight years old. He attends every game and makes sure that the foul balls find their way back into the hands of the umpires.
“David” is a big help to us. We can depend on him to do any task we assign him,” the tournament director said.
Another knowledgeable baseball mind that volunteers is Greg Davis. He manages the very important concession stand. Davis is ably assisted by Kim Morris, an Auburn grad who grew up in Tuskegee.
“Goody’s” right hand man is Paris Burd, the assistant tournament director. Burd was a successful high school baseball coach before becoming a high school principal. He runs interference for MVP making sure that the field is prepped before each game and any issues the coaches have are resolved promptly.
Charlyce “Red” Henderson, a former student of “Goody’s” coordinates all communication with the coaches and scouts and serves as the tournament photographer.
Marque Denmon brings his rich voice to the Public Address Announcers post.
“I believe these kids deserve to have their names announced professionally when their turn to bat comes up. This is why I look forward to volunteering at this event each year,” Denmon said.
“Goody” constantly talks about volunteerism.
“It’s all about the volunteers. I don’t need any stories written about me,” he said.
“My grandparents taught me to give back to my community. They taught me to always treat everybody the same no matter what their station in life is. That’s what I try to do. It’s all about the kids and the volunteers,” he said.
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist. He is a Contributor at The Hill, SCLC National Magazine, Southern Changes Magazine and Black College Nines. He can be contacted at email@example.com