The intersection of Dronfield Avenue and Osborne Street, where the Pacoima Little League Field is located, was designated as “The North Valley Broncos Square” on Thursday, Feb. 16, in honor of the first all-Black baseball team to reach the Little League World Series.
The 1965 the North Valley Broncos, an all-Black Little League team, wasn’t allowed to play on the fields of surrounding segregated communities. To give these players a place to practice, fathers of the team members leased an area of land near Hansen Dam for $1 a month.
“Friendships and collaborations happened on this ballfield many, many years ago, because of the fortitude of their parents that took it all the way to the world series,” said Los Angeles City Councilmember Monica Rodriguez, “They like to count us out, but you would be making a big mistake if you counted any of us out,” said Rodriguez. “It’s a glorious day in Pacoima.”
Two players reflected on those years during the dedication ceremony held at the very spot where the players practiced. Anthony Davis, a former pro athlete who played for USC and the NFL, was one of them.
“I started right here,” Davis said. He recounted his experience being denied the opportunity to play in the City of San Fernando when he was 9 years old due to the color of his skin, and how the efforts of those fathers to lease the land led to the start of his sports career.
“If I don’t have this park, I don’t … go to USC and play on three national title teams. I started right here,” Davis said. “There’s a lot of kids that started their careers here.”
Even with a field to practice on, the Broncos still didn’t have it easy. Davis said they weren’t allowed to play on a field across the street, which he described as a “miniature Dodger Stadium.” The Broncos’ field, on the other hand, had gophers and was full of holes. But this added difficulty, Davis said, allowed the team to further hone their skills.
“So, me standing here, I can go on and on and talk about many different things, but this is very monumental,” Davis said. “As a matter of fact, I’ve gotten a lot of awards in my life as an athlete, but this one I’m going to really cherish because this is where everything started.”
The other player in attendance was Rickie Chapron, who also reminisced about his time with the Broncos. He remembered how his strict father would prioritize baseball over his schoolwork. Although difficult, Chapron said playing on the team is how he got to where he is today.
He humorously recounted how the gophers would make their practices even more challenging.
“I’m talking about, [when] the ball would go past you and the guy is still running around the bases, you’re fighting with the gopher trying to get the ball,” he said. “The gopher would finally release the ball and we [would] make one hell of a play.”
Nowadays, Chapron is a little league coach at the field across from the Pacoima Little League Field. He remembers his time with the Broncos with great fondness, even when other communities wanted nothing to do with players of color.
“We were good ball players. Why they denied us back in the day, I don’t know, but I didn’t care. I was just happy that we went that far to play ball,” said Chapron.
“There are others who aren’t with us and we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them, may they rest in peace. My dad was strict and when you got home, you couldn’t eat or do homework, baseball came first,” said Chapron. “My mom would say, ‘you better grab a piece of chicken and get in that car before you get left.’ Without this park right here, I wouldn’t be here today. I didn’t think this would ever happen.”
“I want to see the little kids do something with their lives and I’m going to teach them right,” Chapron said of his current little league coaching. “It’s an all-Hispanic team except for one little Black player and I love them all.” He also made an appeal to fix the park that he said currently isn’t suitable for little kids to play on.
Lon Grandison, a Pacoima Historical Society board member, also spoke at the dedication, saying that preserving the history of the field and of the Broncos is exactly why the organization was formed.
Grandison remembers how, in the 60s and 70s, nothing was more important in the Pacoima community than playing baseball. Kids would play in the streets and parents would welcome it.
“Parents understood that baseball was our life back then,” Grandison said. “It’s just really something that’s important here.”
He also gave praise to Davis for being a trailblazer for other notable athletes, like Charles White and Kevin Williams, saying that those success stories wouldn’t have happened without Davis. By commemorating the success of this team and its players, Grandison said children who hear the stories about the success of others who grew up in Pacoima learn two words, “It’s possible.”
“Honoring these players for what they did — you’re not just honoring them — you’re honoring the entire community because they really perpetuated that and allowed this community and the young athletes in this community to grow,” said Grandison.