Last week, a 9-year-old pitcher made national headlines.
If you haven't heard the story, Jericho Scott of New Haven, Conn., was banned from the Liga Juvenil de Baseball de New Haven because many parents and league officials felt his 40-mph fastballs were too advanced for the beginners' league.
Some have said Scott should have been allowed to stay in the league; others have argued that he should just move up to play with older kids who could hit his pitches. He actually does play in an all-star league, the Dom Aitro Pony League, but he wanted to keep playing in the youth league with his friends.
At first I was upset that Scott and his team were banned from the league, but the more I heard and read about the story, a different concern was on my mind. Why is there already so much focus from parents, lawyers and reporters on a youth league?
Scott spent his 10th birthday last Wednesday doing an interview with CBS' Early Show, wondering whether he would be able to play baseball with his friends.
After all, isn't that why most kids play sports - to be with their friends?
Sadly, it seems that youth sports are less about having fun with friends and more about picking one sport to play year round, with the hope of getting recruited for college. This can apply to different sports in different towns, but I saw it with soccer when I lived in Richmond and lacrosse when I moved back to Baltimore.
I think I was 7 years old when I started playing soccer during both the spring and the fall. Some of my friends switched to playing lacrosse during the spring, but I stuck with soccer, deciding that I wanted to try out for a travel team in addition to my rec league team.
Well, it turned out I should have listened to my friends. By the end of fifth grade, I was tired of soccer. When my family moved to Baltimore and I entered middle school, I picked up two new sports to replace it - field hockey in the fall and lacrosse in the spring. I played those sports, as well as basketball, at school and for a rec league. I went to sports camps during the summer and was able to try out for and join a national field hockey program and a lacrosse club team.
During my sophomore and junior years of high school, I was playing field hockey and lacrosse year-round and still playing at school. I wasn't having fun playing basketball anymore, so I quit after sophomore year, and at the end of my junior year I realized I had lost the desire to play field hockey and lacrosse, too.
My senior year was incredibly difficult because I'd been playing organized sports since I was 5 years old, and felt like I'd lost a huge part of my identity. I went to watch my friends' games and congratulated those who were recruited to play in college.
I thought we had all felt too much pressure to succeed in sports at too young an age. About 40 of the 60 girls in my sixth-grade class played lacrosse, but slowly those without college potential dropped out, and the 10 or so playing when we graduated had committed to playing year-round and getting recruited.
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I think the changes in college recruiting are a huge part of the problem. As part of my internship during the summer of 2007, I went to a press conference to watch a rising high school senior announce where he would play college basketball.
I felt weird being older than this heralded recruit, and it must have been even stranger for the people around me, most of whom were between 30 and 50 years old. The age when athletes draw the attention of college scouts keeps getting lower, and I don't see how that benefits the athletes or the scouts.
When that senior, Sean Mosley, announced he wanted to attend the University of Maryland, the Terps had already received a verbal commitment from Terrence Jennings. Since then, Jennings has decided to go to the University of Louisville instead and until early August, Mosley was on the verge of not qualifying academically.
Two more Maryland recruits, Tyree Evans and Gus Gilchrist, also changed their minds and are looking to play at Kent State University and the University of South Florida. Athletes are making commitments to schools before they're ready, and scouts are missing warning signs in their rush to acquire the nation's top recruits.
The first girl in my grade to commit to a college lacrosse program was cut her first year there, and her twin sister went to play for a school where administrators got rid of the entire lacrosse program before she played her first game.
They both transferred to new schools, and though they were lucky to fulfill their dreams of playing college lacrosse, they left all the friends they'd made at their first schools behind.
When I heard or read a comment that it shouldn't matter where Jericho Scott played, as long as he got to play, I thought of my two friends. The people you play with do make a difference, particularly when they become your friends.
I miss playing organized sports every day, and I harbor a lot of resentment for the combination of circumstances that caused me to abstain from sports during my senior year of high school. I hope Scott has many years of having fun playing baseball with his friends ahead of him, because I'd hate to see America's pastime ruined for a 10-year-old.
Contact staff writer Barrett Neale at email@example.com
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