Little League Program Helps Youth Live Out Their Dreams

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Since its founding in 1939 in Williamsport, Penn., Little League has provided a venue for millions of boys and girls to live out their dreams of some day pitching a no-hitter, lifting a grand slam home run over the outfield fence or sliding safely across home plate with the winning run.

The league also plays a huge role in helping the fledgling athletes develop their character, courage and loyalty all the while providing leadership in youth sports.

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Matthew Martinez looks like he is ready to play ball as he attempts to handle a bat that is almost as big as he is during the Saturday, April 19, opening day Little League festivities.

Simply put, Little League plays a valuable role in our society and the development of our children.

The vast majority of those parents with children playing in Little League programs around the country have never caused any problems.

In fact, they are the dedicated volunteers who form the foundation of the program by contributing hours and hours coaching teams, running snack bars, leading fund-raisers, scheduling games, procuring equipment and serving as board officers.

In short, their contributions are priceless and without them there would be no youth sports.

Unfortunately, in every Little League program in every town and city in America, there are a handful of parents who take the game too seriously. Sadly, the over-reactors and the obnoxious are the ones everyone remembers.

In Jupiter, Fla., a youth league requires parents to attend sportsmanship classes and sign a "sportsmanship pledge" before their children can participate.

Sports Illustrated has chronicled what it calls an "epidemic of verbal harassment and physical violence by out of control parents."

The national sports magazine also suggests that a cause of the problem is the fact many parents live vicariously through their children's athletic accomplishments.

SI reasons the parents have set up their own performance expectations that they expect their children to live up to.

Those type of expectations are wrong, dreadfully wrong.

Also, many a coach, both in youth leagues and on the high school level, has walked away from the profession because he or she didn't want to be forced to deal with parents trying to live their own athletic fantasies through their children.

Fortunately, Payson has not experienced the type of parental problems other leagues around the country have.

However, a few years ago I penned an article about a Payson parent who was banned from his son's youth football games because he threatened to beat up the coach.

"I'm going to kick your ...," the obviously irate parent told the coach.

Parental berating and humiliating often doesn't end with coaches.

Only a few days ago I had a discussion with a well-respected and veteran youth sports official who said he was paring away his involvement in refereeing because he didn't want to deal with the abuse doled out by some parents.

That's too bad, I know him as a quality man with the best interests of children at heart.

When youth sports are kept in perspective, they are great for kids.

It's best to remember that sports can help parents raise responsible and respectful children only if Mom and Dad set good examples.

With the Little League season now off to a great start, let's hope the compulsive behaviors of some parents are shelved and the approach to supporting our children becomes "just let them play."

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