This is an exciting time of year for Little Leaguers, coaches, parents and fans.
The regular season is over, All-Star players have been selected and area tournament play begins today in Show Low and Flagstaff.
The tournaments offer young players the opportunity to test their athletic skills and prowess against those from other towns.
For some of the Payson All-Stars, it will be their first opportunity to challenge opponents they could be competing against, until they graduate from high school.
I've overheard many a senior football and basketball player say, "I remember that guy from Little League."
The postseason also represents an opportunity for parents and fans to show their support for our town's most valuable resource -- our young people.
The opponents Payson will be facing -- Show Low, Pinetop-Lakeside (Blue Ridge) and Round Valley -- have reputations of turning out in full force to support their athletic teams.
Former Longhorn wrestling coach Dennis Pirch once said there is a special challenge in competing against White Mountain area teams because they usually draw such great fan support.
But, as much as we want our Payson teams to do well, it's crucial that those attending the games do so in the true spirit of sportsmanship.
Openly second guessing, ragging and criticizing game officials and umpires is a poor example to set for our young people and also gives Payson a black eye.
I attended several girls fast-pitch softball games at Rumsey last weekend and was appalled by some of the boo-bird parents in the stands, who, rather than cheering their children on, vocally abused the umpires or chided opponents.
Since no Payson team was entered in the tournament, most of those who did the carping were from the Valley.
Those parent's actions were in direct contrast with the purpose of youth sports which is to teach sportsmanship, loyalty, honesty, courage and respect for leadership.
Good sportsmanship can only occur when teammates, opponents, coaches and officials treat each other with respect.
Those parents who chose to harangue and berate opponents and umpires must have forgotten that young people learn the basics of sportsmanship from the adults in their lives, especially their coaches and parents.
Little Leaguers who were not chosen for the All-Star teams are most likely very disappointed today.
Hopefully, that let down will not last.
All-Star selection is not an exact science. Gifted players can be overlooked, and there are many boys who come into their own later in their young lives.
In my 30-year-plus coaching career, I saw many late-bloomers, including one of my own sons, be passed over early, only to later round into fine, polished athletes.
Those who didn't make the star squad should continue to practice, get better, and return next season with renewed enthusiasm.
A great opportunity for the non-stars to improve their skills is attendance at the Arizona Diamondback Training Center to be held July 8 through 13 at Rumsey Park.
Sessions will be conducted 8 to 11 a.m. and are open to children ages 6 to 12.
Skills to be taught during the five days of camp include hitting, fielding, throwing, base running, specific position play and strategy.
Throughout the camp, coaches will mix in contests and competitions to keep the instruction lively and interesting.
During the practices, Training Center coaches -- some former professional baseball players and handpicked by the Diamondbacks organization --teach the campers the nuances of the game. An instructor-to-student ratio of no more than 1:10 is maintained, to provide the best learning environment possible.
An estimated 12,000 young athletes statewide have participated in the training camps.
The Training Center offers close to 200 camps annually in more than 40 Arizona towns and cities.
The registration fee is $150, which includes 15 hours of instruction, a Diamondbacks hat and T-shirt.
A portion of the proceeds from the camps will go to the Arizona Diamondbacks Charities Youth Baseball/Softball Fund.
For more information or to register, visit www.dbacks.com/ camps or call (800) 821-7152.