What it’s all about: Youth league has chance to be proactive

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 3, 2004

Nothing about the sign leaves room for misinterpretation.

“This game is played by children. They play it just for fun. In the greater scheme of things it matters not who won. Participation not Perfection,” Demopolis Parks and Recreation Department.

In round numbers, 99 percent of the youth baseball and softball fans who wiggle on the uncomfortable aluminum bleachers live by that sign. They cheer after the good; encourage after the unfortunate.

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The remaining one percent — the fans or parents who cross the line between excitable competition and inexcusable exasperation — will never go away. They were part of youth sports 50 years ago as much as they are a part today.

The only difference between the generations is the method by which disgusted fans demonstrate their rage. It’s no secret, even in towns as close as Decatur and Selma, that this generation of fans has the ability to resort to violence in the cruelest way.

Just this week, a Decatur youth league game stopped after a shooting.

Will that happen in Demopolis? Probably not. Hopefully not.

But could it ever happen in Demopolis? Absolutely.

Line up 100 different people and ask them for solutions that might prevent the unthinkable, and you’re likely to get 100 different answers. The man who heads the Demopolis Parks and Recreation Department has his own list of ideas.

Have umpires file reports of unruly fans or coaches like schools do, and the league impose sanctions against them including dismissal from games, and or fines.

Form a committee made up of representatives from every league, the umpire association and park department, that meet regularly during the seasons and hears complaints from coaches, umpires, park staff, etc. and makes rulings on complaints or imposes sanctions on whomever needs it. Fully supported by PARD and every league.

Remove scoreboards from youth fields until tournaments, and disallow teams to keep score during regular season.

Have a bulletin board at the park that list individuals that display unsportsmanlike conduct in front of children.

Then again, are those methods tried and true? Won’t the playoffs become even more bitter when those scoreboard lights eventually show a winner and a loser?

Other solutions have come and gone over the years. In Demopolis, one parent has suggested an overhaul of the entire structure of the league.

“Let the sponsors get involved,” said the parent, who asked to remain anonymous. “The sponsors are the ones who have their names on the backs of these kids’ jerseys. They’ve got a lot to lose if something bad happens.”

Park and Recreation Director Mark Pettus would agree, but say that there is no need for an entire overhaul of the league, which in his opinion is a good one.

“Sponsor involvement would be great,” Pettus said. “The more involvement we have in the league, the better it will become. But as far as an entire overhaul of the league, well that would not be fair. There is a lot of good in the league and to try and change everything would ruin what good we do have.”

Other ideas shared this week regarding the issue at hand involved having a league headed by those with lesser emotional involvement.

Another parent, who also wishes to remain anonymous, says that having a board that has no emotional involvement might help. “Parents have a tendency to think irrationally when it comes to their kids,” the parent said. “They sometimes lose focus of what right and wrong is. Therefore it might benefit the overall league if we had volunteers with no emotional ties to the league.”

Keith Durham did have an interesting solution from an umpire’s viewpoint this week. Durham said that one reason why little league fans were more vocal and violent than those at the high school level was due to their involvement in the game.

“Parents and fans are right there,” Durham said. “Right on top of you, watching everything, hearing everything. It’s like they are apart of the game. There needs to be more separation between the game and the fans.”

Jimmy Mackin feels the same way; parents and fans are a bit to close.

“Maybe we should put the fans out in the cheap seats and make them watch the game from behind center field,” Mackin said.

Ultimately, though, there is no greater solution than personal responsibility.

” Being a parent is one of the greatest, yet toughest responsibilities there is,” Pettus said. “Ultimately, parents play the biggest part in the solution.”

There have been other, preventative solutions offered. Acting Police Chief Jeff Manuel suggested that a police presence might be worthwhile.

“Maybe it’s something Mark [Pettus] and I need to discuss,” Manuel said. “We could look at funding for an officer out there.”

The need for an officer isn’t because of current irrational behavior. Sure, there are problems in Demopolis just like there are in any other town. In this city, there have been no brawls or shoot-outs or reasons to reinvent the positive atmosphere abundant at the SportsPlex. Instead, Demopolis is fortunate because it has the chance to use the best cure for any problem — prevention.

Maybe an increased police presence would help. Maybe unplugging the scoreboards would help. Maybe asking sponsors to lead the leagues offers the best solution.

The solutions Demopolis needs are not in reaction to an enormous problem. The solutions can, and should, be proactive. They should be designed to keep the leagues as stable and positive as they already are.