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Competitive edge often too sharp


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I remember the conversation well from years ago. A reader was irate that I wasn’t going to run the Instructional League baseball results for kids who were 6 years old.

The league was turning in the results without scores because they were labeled “non-scoring” games that weren’t supposed to be competitive in nature.

Even so, there were listings for little Johnny Masher, who had four home runs, Tommy Whammer, who slugged six extra-base hits, and Cornelius Thumper, who stroked a grand slam. On the other side, Peter Pathetic drew a walk. It was kind of obvious what was happening.

So I told the woman that they just needed to turn in the scores and then everything would run along with all the other youth baseball results.

She began to yell even louder, accusing me of having something against first-graders.

I would admit there were times when I was volunteering time in my son’s first-grade class that I wondered how any teacher could be locked in a room with all those students for an entire day, but that had nothing to do with this particular case.

“Do you keep the scores?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she answered.

“What was the score of Saturday’s game?”

“42-1.”

Things were becoming clearer. She explained that the league didn’t want me to run the scores because it would embarrass the players on the losing team.

Nice. I took a depth breath. “But 6-year-olds don’t read the newspaper. You mean to say that the parents are embarrassed?

“Oh, and by the way, if you really care about the kids’ feelings, why not divide up the rosters more evenly instead of creating a couple of teams that look like the New York Yankees?”

Silence.

For all the wonderful work people do to provide children opportunities in youth sports, there also is a kind of mind melt that takes place in adults. We, those of us old enough to drive cars, struggle with the concept of being competitive.

We get bombarded by warnings from politicians, who tell us that 8-year-olds in China are mastering calculus while flying an airplane. We have to get with the program, or our children will grow up to get jobs sewing together sneakers in a sweat shop. Oh, and we won’t win any medals at the Olympic Games, either.

There are ways now to make sure our 5-year-olds are reading at the fifth-grade level. Then it comes to sports, and we want our 8-year-olds to wake up to “Body by Jake.”

Hopefully, we can step back and identify some of the madness, plotting out a course that allows kids to be kids but also prepares them for a world that wants our children to be bigger, faster and smarter, as soon as possible.

On Saturday, I am going to enjoy my first “Super Saturday” in Columbus. That’s the elementary school basketball tournament that matches fifth- and sixth-graders from the area that culminates with a final four showdown at Columbus North High School. The boys’ title game is 6 p.m., while the girls’ championship is decided at 7:30 p.m. There are earlier rounds and a cheerleading competition earlier in the day.

The feedback I have received so far is that the tournament provides those who participate, both boys and girls, with a chance to be exposed to a pressure-cooker type atmosphere after participating most of the year in a league that is developmentally based. It seems to do a great job balancing fun and competitiveness.

Chuck Grimes, who ran the EBL for years, said the rosters used to be larger. That makes sense because as we get more competitive, we don’t want to worry about playing the 13th-best player with the elementary chips on the line. Whether or not we like it, the world is a more competitive place, so there have to be concessions.

But even Bob Gaddis, the Columbus East High School athletic director, urges his ninth- and 10th-grade coaches to keep as many players as possible on their rosters. Besides the fact that some kids mature faster than others, Gaddis wants students to experience the fun, fitness and camaraderie of athletes.

That’s a good theme with so many people coming together for such a special event on Saturday. Enjoy it.

Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at jheater@therepublic.com or 379-5632.

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