Freeport Journal-Standard from Freeport, Illinois on July 12, 1975 · Page 23
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Freeport Journal-Standard from Freeport, Illinois · Page 23

Freeport, Illinois
Issue Date:
Saturday, July 12, 1975
Page 23
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II: By DAN McGRATH Journal-Standard Sports Editor Little League baseball, for all its ' good intentions and high-minded aims, has been a much-maligned institution in recent years. „ . • • It has been criticized as a vehicle by which frustrated Vince Lombardis live out fantasies of themselves as brilliant strategists, leaders and, above all, winr ners. Child psychologists have condemned the program as an example 1 of "too much too soon"-tender young egos simply aren't prepared to handle the competitiveness and pressure to succeed which, for better or worse, are integral parts of Little League. . A widespread stereotype of Little League fathers as potbellied louts hell bent on seeing that Junior gets a fair shake and ready to do battle with anyone-umpires, coaches, other parents- who would deny him his due has hardly been good for the program's image, either. Yet despite the fact that Little League, since its inception in 1939, has grown from a three-team local operation in Williamsport, Pa., into an 8,500 team monolith involving more than two million youngsters in 31 countries, Little League Baseball Inc. has often been its own worst, enemy. It states as one of its primary goals a desire to teach sportsmanship and teamwork to all youngsters involved, but it took'a barrage of lawsuits, to~ open up the program to young girls as well as boys, v It circumvented the problem of foreign domination of its showcase event-the Little League World Series- by banning all foreign competitors from the tournament effective this season. . . "• It received a federal charter of incorporation in 1964, giving it tax exempt status on ail revenue produced. It is not in the profit making business, but it charges each of its 8,500 member teams a fee for use of the Little League name and an additional fee for pointing its all-star team toward the Little 1 League World Series. It also receives royalties from use of the official Little League emblem, it is in the summer camp business, and it receives substantial interest payments each year on the $1 million-plus which sits in the Little League Foundation. . Little League Baseball Inc. has its problems, not the least of which is public relations. As an officially recognized affiliate of Little League Baseball Inc., Freeport Little League Inc. shares some of those problems. It also experiences several that are endemic to itself. But for the most part, league officials believe they have an organization which strives to fulfill the goals Little League set for itself when it was Major League Action founded and before it became big business. "The basic goal of our program is to tepch baseball fundamentals, teamwork and sportsmanship, and to make sure the kids have fun and enjoy themselves while they're learning," says Wirt Gilliam, secretary-treasurer of Freeport Little League Inc. "That's been the goal as long as I've been involved with the program. We have problems; but for the most part I feel we've been successful: And we're always trying to make our .program better for the kids K because that's who we're trying to serve."' '.' Freeport's Little League, program is divided into three divisions: Pee Wee, Continental and Little leagues. In all there are approximately 625 boys (and, for the first time «vef this year, girls) involved. Aft are between the aees 01 &> and 12.- Eight-year-olds who start-out are invariably assigned to the Pee Wee League. Nine-year-olds are approximately equally divided between the Pee Wee and Continental leagues, A 10-year-old who demonstrates unusual aptitude for the game of baseball may find himself in the Little League; but most 10-year-olds are assigned to- the Continental League along with those 11- and 12-year-olds who are not quite ready for Little League competition. No 12-year-olds are allowed to pitch in the Continental League, and no more-than eight 12-year-olds can be carried on any Little League roster. To promote cooperation among the leagues and to'keep the program better organized, Freeport Little League has adopted something of a "farm system" concept. What it means is that a team in the "Little League'is viewed as a major league, team, while a Continental League team and a Pee' Wee .League team serve as its feeders. ' An 8-year-pld; for example, becomes a member of a system as soon as he: is assigned to a Pee Wee Leagues,team. When he's ready, he wili'be promoted' to the Continental League team within his system, and after that to the Little League team. An. additional benefit of the farm system approach, league officials believe, is that it helps keep youngsters^on their own competitive,,-* level: ' -• ; • :i « Competitiveness, though, is one fac- ''• tor which critics of Little League never fail to mention. The program's" advocates; counter with the argument that youngsters who grow up in Amer- ica grow up in a highly competitive society, and they must learn to live with competition in order to be successful. Freeport officials opt for the middle ground. "Everybody wants to win, and there might be some people who go overboard on the idea of winning," said one manager. "I think they're definitely in the minority, though. "My own approach is this: I don't - know all there is to know about baseball, but Tknow something about it, and I'm going to teach my kids all I can. But what I really want from them is to have them try as hard as they can. If they do that, and if I can teach them a little ^something about the game, then we've accomplished something whether we win or not." Says Gilliam: "What we're really interested in is people who are in it for -the kids and for the program itself, and not just to win. Naturally everybody wants to win, but we feel the things the program stands for-the learning, the teamwork, the sportsmanship-are all far more important." An average of 15 players are assigned to each of the 38 teams which make up Freeport Little League Inc. Each team is supervised by one man- _ager and one coach. Obviously, only nine players can be-vu^ed at any one time, but the league insists on total participation through the enforcement of a rule which states that.every player musf be used for at least one inning in every game. It doesn't always work, but league -officials would like to see the rule guarantee each player at least one turn at bat, as well as an opportunity to play, in the, field. "We don't have much trouble enforcing the rule," an official stated. "Naturally there are one or two managers who think it's a bad rule and want to go with their nine best players as often 1 as possible, but we certainly don't think it's asking too much to use every boy for an inning. "Problem^ might arise in the area of practice, with kids'who show up for games expecting to play without having been to practice, in that situation it's up to the manager. He'll probably play that kid for only ah inning. But we're concerned with seeing to it that every kid involved in the program gets a chance to play. 1 ' r Officials are also concerned with providing the best equipment possible for the players, which makes Little League an expensive proposition, but not necessarily for the players themselves. "All a kid really has to have is a glove. We supply everything else," says equipment manager James Carrithers. "And we'd never turn a kid away because he,didn't have a glove." Pee Wee League players are outfitted with T-shirts and caps, while Continental players are given T-shirts, caps, socks and baseball pants. Little Leaguers wear regulation baseball uniforms. New uniforms are purchased every three years, along with catcher's equipment and other gear which the league provides. "It costs anywhere from $10 to $25 to outfit each boy," Carrithers said. "The entire program costs in the neighborhood of $10,000 per year. It's expensive, but we make it." In addition to-equipment, that $10,000 covers the cost of umpires and insurance, which players on all levels carry. Local businessmen and merchants who sponsor Little League teams provide roughly one-third of the program's operating expenses. The rest comes from an annual candy sale and similar fund-raising ventures. League officials are quick to point out that Little League could not hope to break even without the full and enthusiastic cooperation of the Freeport Park District. "They., provide and maintain the fields and pay for the lights, and without the park's cooperation I don't think we'd be able" to make a'go of.jt." said Carrithers. "In return, they "operate the concession stand at the Little League diamond, which helps them get some of their investment back. "Really, though, you can't say enough about what the park has meant to. the Little League program," he added. , -"Since I'ye been involved we've never had^jshythihg but the utmost co- operation." League officials haye permitted girls to participate in the program for the first time this season, in keeping with a policy' change by the national Little League organization. PermiUing girls to participate and getting them to do so are two different things, though, as those officials are discovering. "There are a lot of factors involved," one said of the 50 per cent attrition rate. "Some of the girls are outstanding, and most of the others who have stuck it out can hold their own. But a lot of the girls who quit simply weren't ready to play baseball on this level. "I don't know if this is a solution or not, but what I'd like to see us do is leave the program open to those girls who want to play and can play, but also sponsor a softball team for girls who'd be better off doing that," the official added. "The softball team could compete with teams from the surrounding area. I think it would help us get more participation from the girls, and the way -I look at it is the more participation the better." All-Star Games To Be Played Today The flower of Freeport's young baseball talent will be on display today at the Little League diamond in Read Park. All-star teams from the American and National Divisions in the Pee Wee, Continental and,. Little , leagues will collide in three games: the Pee Wee all-stars at 2 p.m.; the Continental League all-stars at 4 p.m.; and the Little League all-stars at ft p.m. The public is invited, and no admission fee will be charged. Momentary Pratfall Page 8 Freeport Journal-Standard, Weekender,'Saturday-Sunday, July 1213, 1975 Freeport Journal-Standard, Weekender, Saturday-Sunday, July 12*13, 1975 Page 9

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