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Today our Junior Softball All-Star team played a fun pick-up game against our Major’s softball team. It was a blast as all the girls from both of the teams are good friends, the score, irrelevant really, was 2-0 and not because of pitching, but because of fantastic defense played by both teams!
As I stood in the coach’s box at third base, suddenly it hit me. With the exception of one girl, I had coached every one of these players, most for multiple seasons. This was the fruits of my, and many others labors, coming to fruition. The smiles on every one of their faces made this a very proud moment for this humble coach.
To understand you have to know a little history. About 5 years ago I moved here to this small town. The place was recovering from being hit by 3 three massive hurricanes in a row, over 40 inches of rain in less than a month left hundreds of houses flooded. There were messes to clean up everywhere with trees down and parks destroyed.
The season, though it started late, still went on though. Volunteers pitched in and cleared trees, mended fences, and got the sites playable again. Though challenged, peopled pulled together as they often do in times of crisis, and worked to get things back to normal.
It was that fall I had my first experience with softball in DeBary. Our team? 0-16. Did it matter? Not one bit. I could see the raw talent that existed, and I knew that there had to be a ton of other players out there that would love to participate if given the opportunity.
Tonight, there were 19 girls on the field, 18 of them I had coached before. Most for many years, all for many seasons. It was a proud moment. Four years ago we had one minor softball team, one major softball team, and one senior softball team. That was it. This year, we had four minor softball teams, two major softball teams, and a very large senior softball team. Our league grew from 275 players to 333.
Standing there it suddenly hit me how far we had come. There was only 1 error in the game, every player made the correct play at the correct time, and both teams hit the ball hard. I want to take a second to thank every coach who helped, every parent that tolerated our long practices, and every player for believing in each other and in our philosophies.
It was very obvious, the hard work and dedication of so many was paying dividends ten-fold. Thank you for allowing me to be a small part of this fantastic transition and it will be interesting to see how far we can go.
I received a letter today from Anthony Gonzalez, the Acting City Manager of the City of DeBary. The letter is welcoming me to the “DeBary Strategic Planning Steering Committee”. As a member of the committee we will help the city council and mayor determine their strategic planning for the city. The first meeting will be held Saturday the 20th, at 9AM. I guess I am about to get an education in local politics!
From the Little League’s perspective, the number one priority in my mind is making sure that the new parking lot gets built at Sullivan Park. Do you have any ideas for what direction the city should be steered into? I would love to hear about it.
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I was reading an article the other day on a girls fast-pitch website that was discussing the options for a player, boy or girl, once the Little League spring season was over. The article, titled That Time of Year, told the plight of a parent who was looking for options once the spring season of Little League ended. He went on to tell about finding a fall program that was less than stellar and then discovering the hyper-competitive, and VERY expensive travel ball. Unfortunately, he says, there is no “middle ground”.
I have discussed this with many friends on a regular basis, and he (Dave) is dead on here. There are no middle options. Don’t get me wrong, travel programs have their place, and as kids get older and are serious about their careers showcase teams are a must, but for everyone 12 and under, why do they have to end their life for the game?
My 9 year old son this year kept a schedule that every week included 2 Little League games, one Little League practice, one pitcher-catcher practice, one travel ball practice, and a travel ball double header on Sunday. And our travel team wasn’t really all that active compared to the others!
Why do we do this? Because we want more than Little League and travel ball is the only option. Don’t get me wrong, I bleed red and blue of Little League. My son had way more fun playing against his friends in Little League than against strangers in travel ball. Even though the talent level was much less.
But how about creating a middle ground? I hear about parents not wanting to leave on Friday night for a tournament and return Sunday evening every weekend. Little League is uniquely positioned to offer a solution that suits the middle ground kids.
Face it, the extreme kids that love the game and are potential college or professional players are going to play extreme level travel ball, as they should. But in any Little League, those kids comprise less than 1% of the players at most. Little League cannot meet their needs, if they play, that is a bonus, but there is no way to offer a solution to them, they are where they want and need to be.
But, what about the stars that don’t want to play baseball or softball 7 days a week and twice on Sunday? Where do they turn? Right now, the answer really is nowhere, that’s where Little League comes in. Little League can fix this problem!
Currently for 12 and unders, Little League offers their competitive program, Majors, an instructional program, Minors, and a t-ball program. After the season ends, most District managers hold some version of a Tournament of Champions, and then on June 15th All-Stars are announced and begin practicing.
Why not add one more division? Call it “elite”. In my Little League hometown of Sterling, VA, where I cut my teeth, they have one of the best softball programs in the country. But it is Pony League. Or at least it was when I lived there over 10 years ago. They actually host the Pony National Tournament and World Series there, or they did then.
The structure of their league is a majors/minors equivalent, with a travel program as well. The top players in the league play on one team and travel and play against other teams in the area, while the rest of the kids play in the local version of the league. Additionally, the travel players are spread amongst the local teams and play there as well. Bingo, problem solved!
What positions Little League uniquely to accomplish this, and better than any other program in the world, is their District alignment setup. They already have hundreds, if not thousands, of districts set up all over the world that include 10 or so teams in them. It is the first level of play during the all-stars.
Why not have each league put together an “elite” team that plays against all the other league’s “elite” teams during the season? This provides the league structure that travel programs lack, the ability to still play with all your friends, a truly competitive environment, and a commitment that doesn’t cost you $10,000 a year or your entire life!
Little League could impliment this next year if they wanted. They have the structures in place and the lines of communication from Williamsport to the local leagues are impecable.
So what do you say Little League International? How about an “Elite” division for the spring of 2010?