I’ve said it once and I will say it again, there is no purity left in sports. When ESPN televises every inning of the Little League World Series, you know all hope is lost.
Last week it was announced that the Jackie Robinson West Little League team from Illinois had been stripped of their 2014 National Championship for violations regarding player eligibility. The sad thing about this is I’m not surprised. Has happened before and will surely happen again. The parents and the coaches involved with youth sports have gotten themselves completely wrapped up in the “winning at all costs” mentality, even when children are involved.
At one point, I was a certified youth sports coach…more like certifiable. Coached Zach in little league baseball and soccer, and Allie in basketball. For those of you that know me, picture this. A small elementary school gym, me in it, not so quietly imploring one of my girls to GET A REBOUND!!!! I’m sure my voice is still echoing in that place 15 years later.
As for little league, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I enjoyed working with the kids and had a good rapport with them. If you ask my friend Ted, he still thinks I’m some sort of little league player miracle therapist. His son had been begging to pitch all season. In a Memorial Day Weekend game, we were up 10-0, and decided now was as good a time as any. The poor kid gave up 9 runs in one inning, nearly had a total meltdown and was due to bat 2nd in our half of the inning. I took him aside, told him that it was fine, and that we needed him to keep his head in the game. Ted’s son goes to bat and gets a base hit. All I can say is I missed my calling.
My problems with little league were the parents, the other coaches, and the politics. Nothing like getting dragged in front of the Little League Board of Directors because one parent doesn’t like the way you are managing his kid, and then lodges an official complaint. Imagine that one. Facing the possibility of being suspended as a little league coach.
The last year Zach played little league, I decided to hang up my clipboard. Our team was considered to a favorite to win the league title. Unfortunately, the coaches/fathers we left in charge completely screwed things up. Played obvious favorites to their own sons, completely destroyed the team chemistry, and lost the support of the parents. After that year, Zach – who was a pretty good ballplayer, never wanted to play baseball again. Can’t say I blame him.
From what I understand, many teams in today’s little league have found a solution to this problem – paid coaches. A couple of the former HS players, who are now all grown up, now coach little league. When I first heard this I was thinking it was babysitting money. Imagine my surprise when rumors started going around town that one team was paying their coach $8000 for the season. Again, just rumors, but even if there was a little truth in that, well…I just didn’t know what to say.
At this point, I’m 11 years removed from Zach playing in little league and happy to be done with it. I’ve actually only set foot in Gero Park (home of the local little league games) a couple of times since then. When I was there last spring, I was completely unsurprised to find the same 4 or 5 members of the “little league mafia” sitting in their usual spot, ruling over their little piece of turf, just looking a lot older than they did back in my little league daze. It was these men who tried to rig the game, and they are still at it. The only thing missing are baseball jerseys that read “Chico’s Bail Bonds.”