Note: Mark Moore is a guest columnist to PRB. Fred Engh’s regular monthly column will appear again beginning in April.
Many recreational leagues sanction sport teams with a private sports organization so that their league has the opportunity to participate in postseason all-star play after the regular season is complete. These teams are typically drafted at the conclusion of the regular season.
But do all-star teams fit the recreational athletics model? Recreational sports are supposed to be all-inclusive and provide kids with an opportunity to experience the thrill of competition, the enjoyment of being part of a team and the ability to learn the fundamentals of a sport. Isn’t ending the season early for all children so that a few can proceed to all-star play defeating the purpose?
Because state and world series tournament dates are set a year or more in advance, recreational leagues have to set regular-season game schedules to allow time to get the minimum number of games in to qualify for postseason all-star play (another challenge), draft all-star teams, order uniforms and practice before the first round of tournaments begin (commonly referred to as “districts” or “regionals”).
This causes the regular season to be cut several weeks short for all teams so that a handful of children can play in the postseason.
It is hard to validate this premise when recreation administrators are in the business of providing recreational opportunities to everyone in the community–not a select few. In contrast, if the regular season was not cut short to draft all-star teams, every child in the league could play more games (sometimes as many as two to six more, depending on when the season ends).
The private sports organizations that target recreational leagues have “select” or “travel” organizations as their direct competition. Consequently, to compete with travel teams, private organizations must adjust things like base distances, pitching distances and the use of pitching mounds.
The problem is that recreational leagues should not be in direct competition with any of these select or travel organizations. The adjustments that may help build a private recreational sports organization actually hurt purely recreational athletics.
Prior to these adjustments, the majority of recreational players have trouble making the throw from shortstop to first base or from the pitching rubber to the catcher at the original distances. Once the base and pitching rubber distances increase–resulting in even greater throwing distances–this makes a once daunting task nearly impossible for some players.
Another burden for recreation leagues is the numerous field setup changes from one age group to the next. Many times recreational leagues schedule at least two different age groups at one location. The more the base distances and field requirements change between age groups (i.e., portable mounds and varying base distances, etc.), the more of a burden it is on an organization to schedule someone to reset bases or pitching mounds between games.
Once again, these changes are made because private sports organizations that target recreational leagues don’t want to lose kids in their program to the more selective organizations.
Ironically, all of the changes that are forced into recreational play actually decrease the need for travel teams and all-star programs—if everyone is playing at the same caliber, where’s the need for an all-star team?
When private sports organizations started decades ago, the opportunity it provided children to experience the thrill of tournament play was great because there was no other way to experience it. But that is not the case anymore–the number of travel teams seems to grow exponentially every year. Thus, the opportunity for tournament play abounds. There are numerous travel teams for which those parents and children seeking that can play.
At its core, recreational athletics is all-inclusive; all-star competition is not. Recreation administrators need to take a step back and reassess all-star participation. Is it truly in the best interests of an athletics program, or is it a program better left to the travel organizations?
Mark W. Moore, is the assistant director for the Botetourt County Parks, Recreation & Tourism department in Virginia. He can be reached via e-mail at mmoore@BOTETOURTVA.US.