There is something to be said for the nostalgia of those vintage hot summer days when only lunch, dinner or darkness could end a pick up game of baseball, football, stickball or whatever kids played in backyards, side yards, vacant lots, streets or alleys. Back in the day, there were no coaches, no umpires, no referees, no age limits and no time-limits.
One of the best movie quotes depicting the innocence of those self-directed loosely organized games was when the Great Hambino in The Sandlot shouted, "Hurry up, batter. This better be a short game. I gotta get home for lunch." That remark might have even made a younger Miguel Cabrera salivate over thoughts of his mama's home cooking!
Far too long ago, the landscape of timeless recreation allowed the freedom and autonomy for kids to unknowingly become the architects for arbitration and governance in sport. There were all-time neighborhood rules like anything hit over Mrs. O'Malley's clothesline was an automatic foul ball, or Johnny had to play all-time quarterback unless Pete could also come out and play that day. The "ball hog"was called out and a foul was part of an honor code. Unfortunately, those timeless games of summer seem to be vanishing from American neighborhoods.
What has gradually happened after the Baby Boomer generation has been an explosion of highly organized youth sports with plenty of adult supervision. The sad erosion of the self-directed pick-up game has been replaced by obligation, travel and way too many participation fees. Tiffin is only one community with an over-saturated marketplace of sport opportunities for the average kid who can fill every one of his or her summer days with non-stop travel to gyms and ballparks.
Locally, there are plenty of school sponsored leagues, camps, weight room workouts and "voluntary" athletic practices to keep kids busy every day. Add in a commitment to play in a local recreation league like coach-pitch or ponytail softball. Couple that with the idea of participating on a travel team organized through a nationally affiliated sport association such as USA volleyball, AAU basketball or Pop Warner football. These organized sport opportunities favor, reward and cater to elite athletes and are bounded by substantial financial commitments.
Gosh bless what the Blackswamp facility by the regional airport on County Road 1 has done to help entertain hundreds of especially 10- to 18-year-old girls each year. Blackswamp and its founder. Dave Reinhart. has fulfilled a mission to substantially improve volleyball skills throughout area high schools while aiding in the college recruiting process. The price for entertainment, training and exposure isn't cheap considering participation fees, tournament entry fees, coach's fees, uniforms, shoes, team apparel and travel expenses. Imagine the price of the family vacation for the 56 girls from six teams who qualified for nationals in Dallas, Texas in mid-July.
There is a cost to sports and the more organized and nationally-affiliated, the greater the expense. Thank goodness that school systems, public funding and grants can help curtail costs of local sports.
In Tiffin, the YMCA and Parks and Recreation Department remain the lifeblood of community sport where dozens of free or affordable summer camps, tournaments, training programs and leagues are available. Perhaps the silver lining in accepting that the dying breed of the summer pick-up game has been replaced by organized sports is that a new era of opportunity can reach a more inclusive audience while still providing fun, skill development and a focus on sportsmanship. Thank goodness we live in a community fulfilling those opportunities.
Stay tuned for more interesting and thought provoking sport stories from around the world to our small community in northwest Ohio.
Bonnie Tiell is the Associate Professor of Sports Management at?Tiffin University.