Archive for Thursday, August 5, 2010

No ‘boys only’ in sports

August 5, 2010

If there is one thing that has grown tremendously in the past decade, it is youth sports. What started out as a little recreational activity for young people is now a full-fledged business. While some of the growth has been good, I have reservations.

The idea of physical activity for young people dates back to the 1700s. Some early educators felt that too much study made young people soft, however, there were few implementations of exercise or athletic programs. It was a century later before there was any real effort to improve the conditioning of young people. Of course, any of the early activities excluded girls. Athletic competition was in general viewed as detrimental to young ladies. I might add those old timers would be shocked if they saw a modern girls’ basketball or soccer game. Girls can be every bit as rough as boys. The old joke about “throwing like a girl” doesn’t apply anymore. Girls’ softball players can throw as well as boys.

There was relatively little attention paid to physical fitness until recently. Young people became fit by working on the farm, walking to and from school and helping with household chores. They might be required to haul water from the well, chop wood or shovel coal. It was hard work just surviving. In the summertime, young people were required to work in the family garden. Play was unorganized and only permitted after chores were done.

As far as sports were concerned, games were only for the wealthy. The athletes featured in the movie, “Chariots of Fire” were a good example of sportsmen being of independent means. The elite competed and the rest were left to their own ends. Yet, the first half of the 20th century produced some great athletes. For the most part they were without formal training. Certainly Dizzy Dean, Bob Feller and Satchel Paige were among the greatest pitchers in baseball history. They were all self taught and developed arm strength just by playing baseball.

Throughout most of the country organized youth leagues started to spring up in the 1950s. Bonner Springs started its program in the late 1950s largely due to the efforts of Jim Finley. The leagues were for boys only and competition was fairly even. It would be another 20 years before girls joined the ranks of summertime ball players. The idea behind the league was that all young people got to play in every game. Even the worst of players was treated fairly. The early leagues were truly recreational. Don’t get me wrong, people played to win but nowhere near the level of today. Most seasons were only 10 to 12 games. By Aug. 1, baseball and softball were over and there was time for summer family fun.

All that has changed now as young people play year-round with practice sessions overlapping. My grandsons have played baseball in the afternoon and basketball at night. They played football all fall and sometimes practice basketball.

It isn’t “boys only” and girls are equally involved. My oldest granddaughter has played premier soccer since she was in the second grade. My youngest granddaughter spends four or five hours a day in the gym preparing for gymnastics meets. They are typical of many young people of today. They are very dedicated to sports and put in a tremendous amount of time improving their skills. Certainly they are bigger and stronger and more knowledgeable of sports than in my generation. They work very hard and competition is central in their lives.

Youth sports are a social activity for the entire family. But you know, they all seem to love it and look forward to the next sporting event. I’m just going to settle back and enjoy watching them play. But on the other hand, I’m glad that my children competed in sports in an era of less stress and competition.

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