Leisure

Take the Ball and Run with It!

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You#ve seen their names in the newspapers. Many of them have gone on to win championships. Some have been offered college scholarships, and a few have even made the big leagues. They are the student athletes of Gwinnett, and sports are their passion.

Through a variety of specialized training facilities, the county is producing its own star athletes. Mostly targeted to train, develop and condition, these facilities are a booming business in Gwinnett. From baseball to volleyball and gymnastics to hockey, if it#s a sport, Gwinnett#s got your training needs covered.

One of the county#s premier facilities is Jack City Baseball located in Lawrenceville. From little leaguers learning basic fundamentals to major leaguers looking for a place to condition and train in the off season, Jack City offers something for every baseball (or softball) athlete regardless of their current level of ability.

Founded by Keith Whitner, a former member of the Detroit Tigers who played AA ball, Jack City opened in Lawrenceville two years ago. With a college degree in child development, Whitner has created the ideal job for himself. #I get to apply what I#ve done my whole life [baseball] and use it to teach kids,# said Whitner.

Jack City offers one-on-one instruction, as well as group camps that apply to each discipline of the game including defense-specific, middle infield, and catch and throw, to name a few.

Every instructor from Jack City is either a current baseball player or former player reaching the college level, minor leagues or big leagues. Names like Ron Gant, a former Atlanta Braves player and Nick Green, a Gwinnett native who is currently on the 40-man roster for the Braves, are included in the staff listing at Jack City.

#Our philosophy is that we want to create a comfortable learning environment,# said Whitner. #We want everyone to have some fun, but we know there are results that have to be achieved as well.#

And results they get. Last year#s Collins Hill High School baseball team has 60 to 70 freshmen try out for the team. Of the kids that were trained at Jack City, 93 percent of them made the team.

#It#s very competitive out there,# said Whitner. #They have to try to get an edge over the competition.#

One way Jack City helps their students get that edge is through the high school winter workout program. For 12 weeks, this high intensity camp covers hitting, pitching, fielding and base running each weekend of November, December and January (holidays excluded). Considered to be a tune up before the high school season starts, these are dedicated kids willing to give up several hours every weekend to improve their game.

#It#s all about making adjustments,# said Whitner. #I#m sometimes shocked at the quick progress they make.#

But it#s not just for the boys. Whitner is proud to have Amy Johnston as part of his team of instructors for softball. Johnston started fast-pitch softball at age 9. She was a softball star during her Meadowcreek High School years (then known as Amy Perry) and even played on the boy#s junior varsity baseball team as pitcher. She graduated and went on full scholarship to Chattanooga State University and Valdosta State University, and was invited to play in the Canada Cup series in Toronto. While at Chattanooga State, Johnston has the lowest ERA (earned run average) in the nation and the highest strike out average per game.

#I like to teach strategy to my girls,# said Johnston. #I want them to think of every pitch as a game within a larger game.#

Jay Langston is another local Gwinnettian who has made a career of sports. A graduate of Central Gwinnett High School, Langston went on to play baseball for Georgia State University and then was drafted by the Pittsburg Pirates. After making progress with their AA team, Langston decided it was time for a change.