Modeling on a tradition in Major League Baseball, all players in Ashland and Eagle Point High Schools on or near April 15 will wear number 42, honoring Jackie Robinson, the man who walked up to the plate on that day in 1947 as the first to break the color barrier in American professional sports.
The act essentially started the Civil Rights movement, says Rabbi David Zaslow of Ashland's Havurah Shir Hadash, who got the idea the ritual could be picked up by local teams.
Ashland High School pitcher Jack Caroll, who has a Jewish father and Chinese mother, took it on as his senior project. The two high schools joined in, as did Little League teams of Ashland, Medford and Phoenix.
Another Ashland High student, Jonah Harris, is enrolling Portland teams for his senior project. Zaslow has looped in schools in Colorado and Idaho and envisions it becoming a tradition in schools across the nation.
"It's important to me," says Caroll, "because, as an Asian-American, I feel I wouldn't have had the opportunity to play baseball without Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. He had a lot of pressure against him in the society of those times. It wasn't about if you were good enough; it was about the color of your skin."
Having grown up in Brooklyn as an avid Dodgers fan, Zaslow says, "I was watching ESPN and here are all the players wearing Jackie's 42 and I thought, my God, this is part of something so much bigger, a celebration of a the first big breakthrough in civil rights. Wouldn't it be great if we could get all the teams here to do it?"
He called Caroll, for whom he'd conducted a bar mitzvah and asked the AHS pitcher/outfielder to consider it as a senior project. Caroll set up a table in front of the Ashland Food Co-operative and took in $150 to pay for the shirt stickers, then got other teams on board.
As part of the celebration, the Varsity Theater will hold a benefit screening of "42, the Life of an American Hero" at 6 p.m., April 15. Tickets are $21 and include soft drink, popcorn and a ticket for a raffle of Dodgers memoribilia. Proceeds go toward the Havurah mortgage retirement. Speakers will be Zaslow, Caroll and Jon Cypher, the judge in Hill Street Blues, who has retired to Ashland. He grew up with the Dodgers in Brooklyn.
AHS players will wear number 42 against Crater High School in Central Point on Saturday, the nearest date to Jackie Robinson Day.
"He changed the game and he changed sports," AHS baseball coach John Wallace said. "It was a huge thing back then and more so because baseball was the American pastime and Brooklyn was the melting pot city.
"All the guys are excited about doing this. They've learned about the Civil Rights times in school and this is a day to dig in deeper, while they're young and still learning about life. It's also about how good a player he was."
Pitcher Jamie Flynn, a senior, says, "Growing up in a diverse, accepting community like Ashland has helped us all learn to accept everyone and to know you can do and be what you really want in life. Jackie Robinson was the best of the best. It was great he was given the opportunity and could take it [racist insults] no matter what."
Junior Bryce Rogan agreed, adding that wearing the number 42 is "a really great way to remember the change, which started in sports and then happened all across the country. It took a lot longer than it should have."