Each year the Pirates work to promote and assist with various education initiatives in the region, and that fact is in evidence with the Pirates Charities Fantasy Baseball Math program, which is designed to help students in grades four through eight improve their mathematics skills in a fun and engaging way.
It utilizes actual statistics from current Pirates as well as player cards the students create to compete against one another in simulated baseball games and tournaments. The program promotes higher order science, technology, engineering and math skills (STEM) in preparation for math-based careers.
After it debuted at a few schools within the Diocese of Pittsburgh in 2011, Pirates Charities expanded the program to include five schools and 13 Boys & Girls Club sites in Western Pennsylvania last year. Then 2013 became a landmark year as participation increased from 420 students to more than 1,200 across 42 different sites.
This year, Fantasy Baseball Math's elimination-style tournament began in early April and culminated on June 1 when one team (two students) from each site gathered at PNC Park for the program's playoffs and World Series.
Then on July 9, all of the playoff teams were invited to the ballpark for the Pirates' 7:05 p.m. game against the Oakland Athletics. That night the Pirates Charities Fantasy Baseball Math World Series champions -- Jenna Ruozzi and Raymonn Kennedy of the LaRosa Boys & Girls Club in McKeesport -- were recognized on the field prior to the game and also got to participate in a ceremonial first pitch.
"The kids can't wait to get to the club to play Fantasy Baseball Math," said Terri Henderson, Vice President of Education and Workforce Development for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western PA. "When you combine the academic skill improvement and the recreational aspect, it's a perfect formula for success for the kids. It's not only a learning experience, it's also a social development experience, and a very positive one.
"They're learning all day at school -- which is what they're supposed to be doing -- but when they come to the club after school, they just want to play sports and have fun. So this is that perfect solution where they're learning and having fun while they're doing it. It supports what the schools are doing and it's a great way to have kids learn without them thinking about the fact that they're learning."
Pirates Charities, presenting sponsor Chevron, and Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington and his wife Becca all made contributions to underwrite the cost of the Fantasy Baseball Math program -- which includes classroom kits, training sessions for teachers, program expenses, prizes and the events at PNC Park. The Huntingtons have supported the program -- which is open to any public school, private school or non-profit organization that operates an after-school program -- since its inception.