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Letter to the Editor: Let's Give Sports Back to the Kids

The writer is Larry Ksanznak, a retired educator who served as assistant superintendant of Lawrence Township Public Schools. Ksanznak was the first principal of Ben Franklin Elementary School when the school opened in 1961.

There is as an astonishing new study about kids that finds over 42 percent do not play outside after school. This study and the concern about obesity in our children and the reduction of recess and physical education in our schools should be of a major concern for all parents. We drive our kids to school, shopping malls, organized sports and sleepovers. When kids are not in cars, they are being taken by bus to school and sporting events.

I was at a youth baseball game and I noticed two kids were never taken out of the game for a substitute. This is commonly known as the “Parent/Coach” syndrome. If you want, your kid to play every inning be a coach. It is not always about the kids but the control of the parent to assure their child gets maximum playing time. When kids sit on the bench knowing they are better than the parent’s child it causes inner resentment. Some kids leave a sport after this kind of experience and never play that sport again.

In some communities there are tryouts and then the weeding out process. Some kids wait patiently to get a call that never comes and they know they weren’t selected for a team. The kids who make the teams are giving new uniforms with their team name on the front of their jersey and their name on the back. There are many sizes of bats and an ample supply of baseballs. Parents then purchase expensive gloves, wrist bands, batting gloves and some get their own bat. They carry their equipments in a beautifully colored travel sports bag.

There was a time that kids were able to set up their own games. During school hours, arrangements would be made to meet at gravel run field, Monroe Avenue playground, 14th and James field, Charity Home field, Pine Street playground, Duplan field, 22nd street field or behind neighborhood churches. We rode bicycles or walked to and from the games. If it were a game of softball, you had two gloves, one each for the first and catcher positions. If someone brought their own glove, they would leave it on the field for the opposing team to use.

The game would be played without adult coaches, referees and no parents in attendance. There was no Rule Book but unwritten rules that required fair play and sportsmanship behavior. If there was a close play at a base, you knew if you were safe or out and reacted accordingly. When the play was too close to call a quick game of fingers, odds or even, determined the decision. The catcher would call balls and strikes for each batter. If you made an error or a bad play an older kid on the team would quietly talk with you after the game. You quickly learned how to bat, run, steal bases, throw to the cutoff man, bunt, hit behind the runner and how to break up a double play. You became a better player because you actually got to play without the “helicopter parent” hovering over you. As a player you knew that if you wanted to play you had to learn not to make the same mistake twice.

One of the best ways to learn eye hand coordination, decision making, quick lateral and vertical movements and depth perception was a game called ‘sponge ball’ or ‘fist ball.” It was played with a sponge baseball. Most of the games were played in the play area between the West Hazleton Junior and Elementary Schools on Monroe Avenue. The pitcher would throw the sponge baseball and the batter would hit the ball with a closed fist. It is surprising how quick the ball came off your fist and into play. There were no gloves just your bare hands to catch the ball.

In basketball there was a unique way of improving your skills. Just about every alley had a basket hanging from a garage roof or a telephone poll. Kids would play for hours with a leather basketball. In the early days we used a coal bucket with the bottom cut out as the basket. We used a small rubber ball as the basketball.

There are new terms that define sports “Red Shirting,“ ”One and Done,” “Personalized Trainers,“ “Burn Out” and “Travel Teams.” In some states kids are held out of school a year so they will be older and more mature when they reach high school. I ask you what is wrong with this picture? A high school football field was recently constructed for $59.6 million. The School District in Allen, Texas, built the new football stadium that has 18,000 seats, two scoreboards, a 38-foot wide high-definition video screen and 42 lines for concessions. We are talking about a high school football stadium!

There was a time when baseball was for kids and a family experience. You could get five or six tickets at a very reasonable price with no cost for parking and enough money to buy a program, some hotdogs and soft drinks. World Series games were played at a time when kids could watch the game and still get to bed at an appropriate hour. If you asked for an autograph by a player it was free and the player exchanged a smile and a few encouraging words. We have allowed big business to take the professional sports away from the kids. There are countless sports memorabilia events where kids pay large sums of money for a player to autograph personal items.

We have the all the strategies to return sports to our kids, but do we have the will power to do it? Here are just a few immediate measures that we can accomplish.

First, never pay for an autograph from a sports personality. Second, as a community leader never pay an athlete to speak at a banquet. Third, notify advertisers you will not buy their products if they continue to have sporting events played at times when families can not watch the event. Fourth, insist that Little League coaches coach a team without their son or daughter on their team.

Fifth, all kids who go out for a youth team, ages 5 thru 10, will make a team. Sixth, parents that hassle and are overly abusive to umpires, coaches and players will be barred from games. Seventh, no adult organized and dominated football program should allow full uniforms and night football games for children ages 5 thru 10. Eighth, to put some emphasis on reducing the cost of tickets and the related costs of food, parking, etc. boycott professional sports for one season. Just let the owners know the public wants family prices to return for professional games. I can assure you that if owners and players had to endure non attendance at their games the prices could easily be adjusted in favor of the fans.

Ninth, do not buy products of advertisers that endorse a 60 minute football game that takes over three hours to play. Tenth, all World Series games must be played at appropriate family hours so kids can have the opportunity to watch the games. Eleventh, when fans unite they have the ultimate power if they are willing to use it. There is no reason why blue collar workers making $40,000 a year should be helping to pay $220,000, 000 salaries of professional athletes.

Let give sports back to the kids. The spirit of the “Knothole Gang” needs to be returned so kids can once again enjoy growing up and dreaming about playing in the major leagues. “Take me out to the ball game; buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks I don’t care if I ever get back. So its root, root, root for the home team. If they don’t win it’s a shame. So its one, two three strikes you’re out at the old ball game.”

- Larry Ksanznak



Summer White January 18, 2013 at 03:54 PM
Well said. Thank you for an intelligent approach to this situation. My child, now an adult, once told me "adults ruin sports".


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