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What is Little League For?

Or Rather Whom is it For?
by Brian Farenell
(c) 30 August 2001

The Little League World Series (LLWS) ended last week. A team from the Bronx got all the attention because one of their pitchers was so dominating. He gave up like 3 hits total in 4 games (1 perfect game, 1 no-hitter). So he and his team got all the hype and huge media attention. They lost in the US Championship to a team from Florida, in a game where the star wasn't pitching. They were made heros anyways, given keys to the city by the NYC mayor, on the cover of the tabloids, etc.

I read an article in the paper last week that a team in Staten Island spend $10,000 on private investigators to try and show that the Bronx pitcher was actually older than is allowed for his team's age level (Bronx beat Staten Island in a regional tournament). All throughout the LLWS, the announcers kept spewing their usual nonesense about how Little League is untainted and a pure form of the sport and they play it because they love the game, blah blah blah. During the one of the games, one of the announcers mentioned the private investigator thing in passing. He did so matter-of-factly and then they went back to their yapping about LL's purity. They did all this without the slightest hint of irony, as though they didn't realize the hypocrisy of the event in relation to their pablum.

All this doesn't surprise me, but it disgusts me. Think about it. They spent $10,000 on a vindicative investigation. What are these parents teaching their kids? To be sore losers. That if you don't win, it has to be a fix, the other guys must have cheated. Do these parents have no shame? Instead of giving that $10,000 to a homeless shelter or even to improve the Little League facilities in their own town, they chose to do something vindictive. Even if the allegation is true, is it worth spending that enormous sum of money on something which should be of little consequence to adults?

Now, reports indicate the Bronx pitcher may have actually been 14, although apparently official documents conflict to his actual birth year. The Bronx LL people a're as pathetic as the Staten Island parents. Adults rigging a game like this and manipulating kids for the sole purpose of giving themselves glory.

However, some people believe that because the allegations proved to be true in this particular case, that the private investigation was justified. I disagree. One argues "If it were your kid and they were cheated out of something, wouldn't you fight for them?" This is a self-serving argument. Kids lose a baseball game and then move on to other things. I'd be shocked if any of the Staten Island kids were pushing for their parents to pay for the investigation. But the parents use this self-serving argument to hide the fact that they feel as though it was they themselves who lost out, not so much their kids. The parents are the ones who obsess about these sorts of things. Kids lose a game and move on. Who has more maturity in this regard?

We automatically assumed the Bronx people were guilty even before we had any facts. Maybe it's because despite all the pablum and official rhetoric, we actually realize that organized youth sports are about kids second and adults first. I think it's also due to the fact that we are too quick to build up heroes who aren't really heroes and then just as quick to tear them down because they are human and fail to live up to the unreasonable ideal we attribute to them. Most people who reach "hero" status in this nation do so as a result of hitting a ball far or having a beautiful singing voice. These are fine qualities but they are amoral and do not reflect positively or negatively on one's character.

The offficial rhetoric is that youth sports builds teamwork, instills discipline, promotes sportsmanship, etc. But kids aren't stupid. They learn from actions not words. The Little League creed that is said communally before every game finishes, "...I will play fair, and strive to win. But win or lose, I will always do my best." But if they see parents (supposedly adults) screaming hysterically at teenage umpires or their coaches manipulating rules or outright cheating or that one particular player is obviously favored by the coaches and parents, what are the kids going to learn from: the words or the actions?

If I were dictator-king, there would be no organized youth sports before the age of 12. Most parents are good but there's a vocal minority who are jerks. They don't have a clue. They try to live their sporting fantasies through their kids. They justify their mania with the self-serving argument that they "just want the best for their kids." Even when their obssession does damage to their child. Unfortunately, this minority ruins it for everyone, not just their own kids; and the good parents often say nothing to shush these types. In fairness, people who've been in music or theatre or dance might be able to attest that this cut-throatedness is not unique to sports.

Anyone who's ever been to a youth sports game knows that the generally speaking, the kids are the ones who have the best perspective, far more than the coaches or parents. I'm speaking broadly, of course, but I believe this to be the case. Kids play hard and compete hard and get dirty and then after the game, they go have a slushie with their friends on the other team. Who would your role model be: them or the parents in Staten Island?

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Page last updated: 14 September '01, 2200 EDT