SKOWHEGAN — After all of the ugly, depressing news to come out of Thursday, I needed a little soul cleansing. I needed something to remind me why I love sports and love being an American.

I needed baseball.

So I went to Skowhegan for the second day of the Cal Ripken 12-and-under state tournament at the Carl Wright Complex. When I drove up, all three fields were buzzing with teams from around the state going through their pregame rituals, preparing for the biggest game of at least a few of these young boys’ and girls’ lives.

It’s hard not to get nostalgic watching kids play baseball and there will be plenty of that going on here this weekend.

While Skowhegan was eliminated from the tournament Friday, Maranacook extended its stay with a 7-1 victory over River Valley.

It’s hard not to yearn for a simpler time in our lives. It’s also hard not to conflate those simpler times of our youth with what we believe was a simpler time in our nation and world.

Old cusses like yours truly remember when Little League baseball was the only thing going on during the summer. If you didn’t play Little League, you were on your own when the school year ended.

I now think of how disappointing that must have been for kids who didn’t like baseball, and while I lament that the game has become less popular with kids, I celebrate the alternatives they enjoy.

Not only does Little League have to compete with another sanctioning body within its own sport, but with a rapidly expanding selection of other sports and activities.

Baseball will have to figure out where it fits for its survival. The amount of options for kids will continue to grow.

This should be a good thing. But it seems to be becoming too much of a good thing.

All sports, baseball included, are demanding kids’ attention more and more these days. Whether it is media and marketing onslaughts to get them to watch, or promises of playing time and scholarships to get them to play, sports are demanding their time, too.

Now kids are being pulled in all kinds of directions by sports. That means their parents are being pulled along with them.

My parents were Little League parents. They drove my brother and I — and usually a handful of our teammates because we had a truck with a big bed — to all of our games. Now parents are Little League/AAU/club/clinic/camp parents, watching their odometers spin and their bank statements shrink so their kids can keep up with their neighbor’s kids and hopefully get their name announced with the rest of the starters in the fall.

When that doesn’t happen, a lot of parents don’t even wait for their child to voice their displeasure. It used to be that they’d complain to the coach, but any coach worth his or her whistle won’t discuss playing time with parents. Now they go directly to the athletic director, the superintendent or their school board representative to not just complain, but demand the coach’s contract not be renewed or, if they’re really trying to show junior how to get things done, terminated immediately.

The scenario is being played out over and over again across the country. Now, when we read about a high school coach stepping down, we assume it was meddling parents and/or entitled players that drove them to resign.

A lot of good coaches and good people are leaving youth sports in droves because of expectations, whether it’s playing time or winning or coaching philosophy or some combination. A lot of young people who are qualified to fill their shoes aren’t even willing to try the shoes on, because they’ve seen, heard and read all of the horror stories and don’t want all of those expectation heaped upon them, especially when the sacrifices that come with coaching are almost always forgotten by everyone who doesn’t coach.

Coaches have a duty to demand commitment from their players. And it’s up to the parents to understand that the best thing about sports is that they teach kids that, like virtually everything else in life, you only get out of it what you put into it.

But coaches also need to respect the sacrifices of others.

I’m not talking about parents, Their sacrifice is most often time and money which, while important, don’t approach, nor do they guarantee, their child’s personal growth and happiness. You’re a parent, that’s what you do, make sacrifices and hope for the best.

But kids are increasingly being asked to sacrifice being kids. Whether it’s because they have to work to help support their family or because they have to be at this practice at noon and that practice at 3 and this game at six and in the weight room by 7 the next morning, we are piling more and more obligations on them and giving them less and less time to do, and think, for themselves,

The days of Little League and Cal Ripken being the cool thing to do during the summer are long gone. Unfortunately, so is what might have been the best thing about those summers when there was nothing else to do — when the game was over, we went to get an ice cream, then wondered what we were going to do tomorrow.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmateril33

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