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Parents making sacrifice for kids



Published: Sat, June 16, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



This column is dedicated to the moms, dads, stepparents and volunteers who donate their time and energies to make sure their children and other parents' young athletes have sports opportunities and encouragement.

In some cases, it's parents who work awkward hours and strange shifts just so they can make sure their Little League slugger and friends have a ride to the ballpark, or a coach for the game.

In others, it's volunteers who sacrifice free time and sleep to be leaders for young athletes.

They may sit in the stands or patrol the dugouts, tired but cheering and teaching while laundry piles up, cars go unwashed, weeds go unpulled and dust falls throughout the house.

It's volunteers who schedule games, mow grass and empty trash barrels when no one is looking.

It's parents who reluctantly turn down an invitation to PNC Park because all five of their children have games on that day.

My supervisor's life revolves around 3 a.m. wakeup calls, followed by long days in the office before hitting the ballfields to practice and/or manage teen-age baseball players in the early evening.

Off days and nights are spent supporting the preteen daughter's softball endeavors.

Extra sleep? Movies? Dining out? Vacations? That's what August is for.

Maybe.

Father's Day: Because Father's Day falls in June, youth baseball and softball coaches come to mind immediately. But year-round, there are parents who make commitments, on soccer fields and basketball courts, at swimming pools and ice rinks, at booster meetings.

They deserve thanks they don't often receive.

For years, this volunteer has tried to make a difference after watching and learning from so many who did.

It began in 1965 when a dad tried to teach his oldest son how to throw and hit a baseball while managing a youth baseball team. To say that the manager's child was the least talented player on the roster would be an understatement.

But despite a losing season, the father didn't throw in the towel, staying on three more years and eventually building a league champion (with a second son with athletic gifts to be envied).

Years later, when the father's youngest and most talented athlete reached age 8, the retired manager sat in the bleachers and happily watched as another dad took charge and molded a champion. There are good lessons to be learned when sons play for coaches who don't sit at the head of the table.

From slow-pitch softball to T-ball to fastpitch, this veteran (who has retired and unretired as a volunteer more times than The Who has made farewell/comeback tours) has seen and heard plenty.

It's not always a pretty job. (The term "Psycho Dad" has been created for those caught up in Vince Lombardi-itis and scholarship pursuits.)

The most memorable moments aren't the trophies or the victories snatched from the jaws of defeat -- it's hearing players reminisce.

Having fun: Between at-bats, the teens in the dugout Thursday were chatting about their glory days, about fun they had learning the game, about coaches who taught, about a pitched ball that landed over the backstop and the coach who kept the pitcher on the mound. You can't buy anything that makes you feel quite as good as hearing about what has left impressions on such talented young minds.

Happiness is hearing better excuses from wiser teens. In a low-key summer league game, my favorite player reached third base with one out, then led off halfway to home while the center fielder caught a popfly that should have been a sacrifice.

What happened to the lesson that with less than two outs, you tag up on anything hit skyward? The varsity player claimed she "so rarely gets on base that I forgot."

Maybe you had to be there to smile at the irony, but with teens and T-Ballers, not everything changes.

Thank goodness, volunteering remains a constant.

XTom Williams is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at williams@vindy.com.




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