A Former Athlete and Heroin Addict, Turned Educational Leader

Updated: November 1, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. (BASN)—On a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, in Kenilworth, a public housing area in northeast, D.C., a young kid with long braids tosses a football to his younger sibling, while an older woman with Nike gear starts a light jog on the sidewalk.  Roosevelt Cohens, a former athlete, heroin addict and national educational leader remembers the good ole days of competing and traveling.

Helping his people in every way

Sports buff Roger Smith, Sr., son, introduced Roosevelt to baseball.   The Smith’s tribe lived two doors from the Cohen’s family.    Roosevelt noticed Roger, Jr., coming home from practice, and eventually, he saw Roger Jr., practice.   Baseball chatter stimulated Roosevelt.

The gray and burgundy uniforms, with the initials “K.C.” on their baseball caps, motivated Roosevelt to learn the game from Warren Gordon, Anthony Goldsboro, Jimmy Wormley and James Johnson.   Initially, he started in right field, then shortstop.    When the starting catcher got hurt, the assistant coach moved Roosevelt to catcher.   At age 13, he made his catching debut and fell in love.   The following year, he acquired the Most Improve Player Award.   Growing up, Roosevelt watched and emulated former Senator’s catcher Paul Casanova and hall of famer Johnny Bench.    Behind the plate was his comfort zone.   When a runner is on base, Roosevelt’s only thought was, if he goes, I am going to get him.

Being an intelligent catcher helped Roosevelt as a base runner.   Logically, he says, a pitcher and catcher must be on the same page.  Weldon Parham and Robert “Hard Rock” Gordon were two of the best youth pitchers in the city, and Roosevelt caught both. 

Under the guidance of Coach Yates McCorkle, a former three sport All American at Kentucky State University, Roosevelt’s 13-15 under team established a 17-0 record.   In 1970, Gordon, earned the nickname “Hard Rock,” for homeruns and work ethic, threw a no-hitter, beating No. 14 Precinct, 14-0.   “The Boys Club League was supposed to be better than the Recreation Center League,” said Cohens with a smile.   Gordon, then 13, recalls his out of body experience as a compliment to the best catcher in the league.  “Cohens had a knack to keep my composure intact, he called the game and I pitched the game,” says Gordon.  

Roosevelt initiated signals to every pitcher, while closely watching the batter’s weaknesses.  “If a batter could not hit a curve or fastball, that’s what my pitcher would throw,” he clarified.   He also made sure a runner could not steal his signals. 

Walking towards his childhood baseball park, now called, Kenilworth/Parkside, Roosevelt began to reminisce when they played River Terrace.   A particular hurler, who lost one game in three years in high school, Gerald “Tub” Gaskins, a former Pirates draftee was there foe.   Tied, 3-3, in extra innings, with James Johnson on third, Roosevelt hit a shot over the third baseman’s head to seal the victory.   “Tub was classy, exciting and clever,” Cohens said.

Highly recruited to play baseball at Bell Vocational High, Roosevelt’s ego and accustomed to winning titles, prevented him from assisting a 0-11 team.    Instead, of baseball, he played junior varsity basketball.

When Roosevelt attended Knoxville College in 1974, he had a heroin addiction, and humbly thanked Kimi Gray, a public housing icon for aiding him.   The folks in Tennessee knew about Kenilworth Courts.   He earned an undergraduate degree, a master’s in Social Work at Howard University and his doctorate in educational leadership in Chicago.   “That’s the drive I have as an overachiever, “says Cohens.

The first ball park, where the 17-0 team played, is now covered with grass and houses across the street.  That’s where Roosevelt talks about the Major League Baseball.   He’s obviously excited about the Nationals, and when he travels to Chicago and New York, he’ll certainly see a game.   He experienced the playoffs every year as a youngster.  At Camden Yards Stadium he feels right at home.   Is baseball the greatest past time sport in America?    “I played football, basketball and baseball, I must concur, it’s like apple pie in America, the greatest.”

The improvement of inner city baseball is progressing.  Cohens got involved in MLB program at a middle school, where the league sponsored uniforms and training.   Cohens stands firm on the strategy that going through the communities or recreation centers is a better concept when recruiting a kid to play baseball.   Baseball saved his life.   Sports disciplined him, giving Cohens the drive and will that turned towards education.   A certified Social Worker, Cohens is beginning to see more African American kids reconnecting to baseball.    Wilson High in D.C. has won 20 baseball titles.  “A lot of them are getting groomed, they’re going to be good,” he told Black Athlete Sports Network.

Lonnie Perrin, who starred at the University of Illinois and with the Denver Broncos, Greg Butler currently coaching in Jacksonville, Florida, Stanley Covington and Robert Adams, a standout at Washington Tech, paved the way for Roosevelt.

One of Roosevelt’s teammates, James Harold Martin, was killed in a robbery.  Martin’s mother, now residing in North Carolina, sent the original photo of that 17-0 team to Roosevelt, by way of another son.   Five players are alive and five are deceased.    The historical photo will be the cover of Roosevelt’s autobiography called, “Grace.”

The title, “Grace,” came from Cohens mentor, Dr. Leonard Ingram, Psychotherapist, and author of 13 books.   Ingram, a Chicago native holds two PhD’s participated in Cohens’ wedding.  “I am familiar with his book.  Telling his story can inspire others, and show people you can overcome,” Ingram noted.

The second ball park in Kenilworth was upgraded years ago, with lights around the diamond that is currently being used by a 12 and under team.   The back stop is rusty and the dugouts are gone.  Nonetheless, the introduction to baseball, will forever linger on in Dr. Roosevelt Cohens’ mind.   It’s not where you come from, but where you’re going.

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