How youth sports have changed

Published 10:27 pm Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It has been a long time since I played youth sports.

Until sixth grade, I pitched in Park and Rec league for the Valley Park baseball team.

We wore matching orange T-shirts with jeans, usually struggled gathering enough usable equipment to practice and were coached by whichever parent was available that night. Don’t get me wrong, we had fun, but we were never good. And we never became good.

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Most of us quit before traveling baseball started because we felt intimidated by the level of competition we would face and that we would have to start wearing uniforms instead of our dirtiest pair of Levis.

Baseball to most kids my age was a sport you only played against your friends and never outside of Albert Lea; we didn’t know any different.

At the Albert Lea Knights Baseball Club Invitational this past weekend, I stood in awe of not only of how many Albert Lea youth were playing baseball, but how good they were.

I saw double plays turned and 12-year olds diving in the infield to make stops before throwing out runners at first base. And they weren’t wearing orange T-shirts and jeans, they were wearing uniforms with matching hats and bat bags.

If I were wearing a Knights uniform during sixth grade I never would have quit baseball and I guarantee I wouldn’t have been the pitcher only because I was the one kid who could throw the ball across home plate.

I was proud of Albert Lea youth sports Sunday. Baseball looked as if it had begun rivaling the youth programs that do it right, and by no coincidence have had the most success over the past five years: wrestling and hockey.

The Knights program isn’t free, though, and those uniforms and bat bags aren’t paid for by sponsors. It takes tremendous dedication by parents to spend the time and money not only to have their child participate, but to travel each weekend to tournaments; something not everyone can do.

The only sport I began playing at a young age and kept playing throughout high school was basketball.

I started in fourth grade, travelling to Mason City, Northwood and Rochester, and by the time I graduated my parents had spent thousands on my participation. Seven years later, though, I was part of a team that advanced to the state tournament and the section finals the following year. Without the hard work of our parents none of my teammates would have had a chance at that experience.

Besides the flashy uniforms, youth involved in the Knights program have something else I didn’t have growing up with baseball: a plan.

They stress fundamentals, sportsmanship and have trained coaches. I applaud the Knights program for giving kids the environment to improve and succeed, and the other already successful programs who have yet the bar so high for our youth sports.