It has been 78 years since the first Little League baseball game was played in Williamsport, Pa. Last year, nearly 3 million kids participated in more than 6,500 chartered Little League programs in 90 countries, making it the largest youth sports program in the world.
When I was 11, after three years of sandlot ball, I signed up for Little League. I ended up pitching our team to a first-place finish and went on to pitch in the league all-star game. The next season found me back at the local sandlots. Despite the glory, pickup games were far more fun.
Just to refresh my memory, I attended a Little League game recently and left, 90 minutes later, with the distinct feeling that Little League exists more for the sake of adults than children. It looked and sounded to me like the primary purpose for having the kids play ball was to provide entertainment for the big people who, whenever they weren't entertained to their satisfaction, howled their displeasure, mostly at the kids and one another, although the coaches and umps caught their fair share as well.
Serious stuff, this Little League business.
I'm taking a big risk here, folks, 'cause criticizing Little League is right up there with desecrating the flag or defaming motherhood, and sure enough, it started out as a good enough idea. I just don't like what it's turned into. Quite simply, the adults don't know their place. This is one setting where they, and not the kids, should be seldom seen and only slightly heard.
When I'm elected All-World Emperor of Little League, I'm going to make some big changes. First off, none of the kids who sign up will be assigned to teams. They'll be assigned to places and dates. On a given date at a given time, some 30 Little Leaguers will show up, preceded by two carefully screened adults, neither of whom have kids who play.
Two kids who've seen the most Little League action will act as captains. They will "toss the bat" to determine who picks first. Once the teams have been chosen, the captains will confer with their teammates to decide who plays what position and the order in which they bat. In the event that there aren't enough players present to field two nine-man teams, the kids will decide how the rules will be modified to accommodate the shortage.
Then, play ball! Oh, and by the way, the players' parents will be encouraged to stay away. "Use the time to do something for yourselves," the letter will say. If they must watch, they will be allowed to do so only at binocular distance.
The two adults will act as consultants, nothing more. If a problem arises, the kids can come to them for advice on how to work it out, but the big guys (or gals) won't work anything out for them. They'll make sure that the kids wear proper headgear at bat, that the catchers wear appropriate protective equipment and that injuries are attended to.
They won't coach, officiate, choose or cheer. In fact, if five or more of the kids cite either of the adults for "meddling," he/she will have to leave. In order to be reinstated as a "True Friend of Little League," the disgraced big person will have to write a five page theme entitled "Why Adults Should Stay Out of Children's Play" and submit it to me for approval. This system, nothing more than sandlot ball revisited, will guarantee that every kid plays and that every kid will be on a winning team about as often as he's on a losing one. It will also give the children complete ownership of the games. They will choose teams, settle disputes, determine who plays what position and so on.
Because the game will be Of the Children, For the Children, and By the Children (Like that? It will be the new Little League credo), it will be truly playful. As it should be.
After I straighten out Little League, it's on to Pop Warner Football, which will become a no-contact flag-football program. I won't let kids play tackle football until high school, where it will take place only under the supervision of trained, college-educated coaches.
I'm going to have lots of fun. So are the kids.
Copyright 1989, John Rosemond. (Revised 2017)
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