Youth sports sure has changed a lot

Published 12:18 am Tuesday, July 29, 2008

As summer youth baseball and swimming programs wind down, I am reminded that those programs are actually mostly “Johnny-come-lately” opportunities.

In most parts of the country, kids of my generation had almost no organized sports programs before reaching high school age.

As I was growing up in Knoxville, a town much like Jackson in size, there was no Little League baseball or football program. There was no swim team as such, though I did swim in a city swimming meet as a 15-year old.

Email newsletter signup

I don’t recall anyone checking birth certificates. I guess they just took everyone’s word about his age. The YMCA offered a mostly intramural basketball league, but I don’t think it was age-related.

When I entered Baylor, a military school in Chattanooga, as a seventh grader, we did have organized sports.

All students were required to participate in an organized sport or take an hour of organized exercise daily. As seventh and eighth graders, we played on a football squad called the mites.

The teams we played against, only three or four a season, were from area schools and I remember those kids had to furnish their own equipment. We were issued everything, including shoes.

After the eighth grade, the boys who wanted to continue football had the junior midget team. That was a little more formal, and we actually had blocking assignments. Both of those levels of play used the same formations, plays, and terminology as the varsity, so I guess they were all considered to be ‘feeders’ for the varsity.

With the widely-available youth sports programs of today, each of those fits a place in the progression of a youngster’s athletic life. That progression almost always starts in the very early years with the interest and involvement of a mentor, who might be a father, uncle, older brother, or maybe his or her mother.

From there most youngsters who remain interested in a sport, eagerly enter one of the youth programs, which might be T-ball, second or third grade football, or maybe age-group swimming

If the interest and ability continue, a kid can move up to 11- and 12-year old baseball, fifth and sixth grade football, or continue in age-group swimming.

After growing too old for those programs, junior high and middle schools all offer a wide range of sports programs. I don’t intend to leave out girls.

There are parallel female programs at all levels. Readers are aware that a great many of the female swimmers now heading to the Olympics are of high school age.

As important as early mentoring is to young athletes, coaching in the organized youth leagues is paramount in a youngsters development.

Too many coaches overlook the marginal player, many of whom have blossomed because a coach paid them some quality attention. I don’t mean to disparage those coaches, most of whom are volunteers. The leagues could not survive without them.

I was glad to see that this year’s City Golf Tournament was played under full USGA rules.

Playing the ball down and playing the course as you find it make every golfer better. Maybe this will lead to some Natchez golfers playing better on a state-wide level.

For those who are interested, Jarrett Hoffpauir is now batting .289 while Natchez’s Nook Logan is at .275.

And, That’s Official.

Al Graning writes a weekly column for The Democrat.