He was a long way from the baseball clubhouse that changed his life, but decided to use that experience to help others, and Tuesday night, Leeronnie Ogletree, of Winter Haven, was surrounded by the stars who heard his story and recognized his efforts.
Ogletree was presented the “Hero Among Us” award at a special banquet put on by the National Consortium for Academics and Sports, University of Central Florida, for his work in telling the story of the sexual abuse he says he suffered as a child at the hands of former Boston Red Sox clubhouse manager Donald Fitzpatrick.
He wrote the book, “Major League Addiction,” a chronicle of his life as a clubhouse boy in 1973 in Winter Haven. For eight years, Ogletree says he was sexually abused and was afraid to tell anyone what happened to him, largely because of his love for baseball.
In a recent presentation at the Darkness to Light Stewards of Children training event, which teaches anyone who works with children how to prevent child sex abuse, Leeronnie said that he was afraid if he told anyone as a child that his family would not let him go back to the baseball field.
He always wanted to be a professional baseball player, but being the clubhouse boy allowed him to be near his favorite sport.
Ogletree has been interviewed by Oprah Winfrey and was on the “Lisa Ling’s Our America” show, in which Ling and Ogletree returned to the clubhouse.
He says it was a way of facing his past.
As a result of his appearance on the shows, he was contacted by Richard Lapchick, the founder and president of the NACS, and told that Lapchick nominated him for the award.
Lapchick said of Leeronnie, “He has now become an advocate and crusader on this issue,” later adding, at the award ceremony in Orlando, “We are a better nation and a better world because of the award winners here tonight.”
Before the ceremony started, at the VIP reception, Ogletree looked around the room, and noted, “Truly the stars are out tonight.”
Among the stars was Lonnie Ali, wife of Muhammad Ali, who was inducted into the NACS Hall of Fame. She and Ogletree conversed about how he could best start a foundation and allow himself to partner with others in the fight against child sex abuse.
Then there were the parents of Christina-Taylor Green, who received the “President’s Award,” on behalf of their daughter. She was one of six people killed when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot at a constituent event in Tucson, Ariz., on Jan. 8, 2011.
Anthony Starego received the “Courageous Student Athlete” award for his accomplishments in spite of the challenges he faces living with autism.
Latipha Cross received the “Courageous Student Athlete” award, for overcoming the abuse of her childhood, having been abandoned and abused by her biological parents, and also by her abusive foster care home, in which she describes having been beaten with a belt until she threw up.
At night, she slept on the playground.
She eventually joined the track team at school and specialized in the 400 meter. Just prior to her setting the state record for the 400 meter in her sophomore year, she developed melanoma.
She and Starego both posed for photos with Ogletree.
“These people are really nice people,” he said.
Others recognized were Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entry which was in 1967, Adonal Foyle, who entered the NBA as the eighth overall draft pick, playing 10 seasons with the Golden State Warriors and three with Orlando Magic. He retired and became the Director of Player Development for the Magic.
Ogletree notes at the time of his award, he was doing radio shows all over the country, “so it kind of fell right in line with what was happening at the time.”
“If anyone wants to help sexually abused kids, then we are on the same page,” he said.
As he tells his story, he says he is learning there are a “lot of people that care about the well-being of kids.”
“It’s not just me, it’s me joining in with them,” he said.
There have been a few negative responses, he notes, from people who hold their teams in high esteem.
He noted he does not hold the Red Sox responsible, but rather the individual.
In his acceptance speech, he noted, “I am the face for Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NFL and all other foundations when it comes to abuse.”
He says now that his book has been published, the rest is about educating the public on how to prevent child sex abuse and how to look for the warning signs.
The room before him was massive as he spoke Tuesday.
“It seemed like the building got so silent,” he said, later.
For information on the NCAS, visit www.ncasports.org or call 407-823-4770.
To reach Ogletree and find out how to partner with him in his mission, email him at Leeronnieogletreesr@yahoo.com or call 863-618-6312.