In the span of just a couple of days, three things happened to me that reminded me just how true that is and just how much I wish I could talk to every parent of every budding young athlete.
First of all, there was the Little League World Series on ESPN and ABC. I found myself wrapped up in the drama of it all, especially when they got to the single elimination part of the tournament.
I loved watching how good these kids were, how they could turn a double play, dive for catches in the outfield and hit with both power and precision. I loved watching them smile from ear to ear when something good happened, and I even loved it when they were sad after making a mistake.
What I didn't love was the game when a team from Oregon was playing and one of their players threw wild on a play, allowing an opposing runner to score. The kid who made the throw looked out from under the brim of his hat in the direction of the stands.
The camera picked up a shot of a very, very angry father pantomiming the proper way to throw a baseball. The father had his teeth clenched and his nostrils flared as his clearly frightened son watched his dad.
The camera also captured several other parents seated behind this madman and caught the disapproving glare they threw his way. And finally the camera caught the young player again, staring at his father before one of his teammates came up and slapped him on the butt and turned him away from the stands.
The night after that game I was in a restaurant where I saw a man I have known casually for many years. When our children were young, I coached a team that had my daughter and his son as members.
Halfway through the season, I kicked his son off the team after going through way too much hell from the father -- who felt his son wasn't getting enough playing time. The final straw came when the father came to practice and began yelling and screaming in front of his son and all the other players about how his son should be playing.
More than two decades later, the father still doesn't talk to me.
And finally, and perhaps most important, is a letter from an 18-year-old son of a friend of mine. He's a very smart kid, just starting his freshman year at a Big Ten University.
For three years he's been a Little League umpire in an upper middle class suburb of Milwaukee. I'm not going to use his name, because he might want to umpire again, although I kind of doubt it. He wrote a letter to the board of directors of the Little League where he worked.
Here, in part, is what his letter said. And please remember, this is an 18-year-old kid, who is also a very good athlete, writing this:
"During this past season, I witnessed some pathetic displays of disrespect and immaturity from the coaches and parents of the Little League. I understand that some of the games had high stakes, but I think that this creates an even greater need to maintain composure.
"As parents and coaches, you must be aware of the purpose of Little League. It is not about winning games or championships. Instead, it's about having fun and teaching the players valuable lessons.
"From what I have seen, the players are learning to disrespect authority and to complain when things don't go their way and they are learning these things from the adults. I may only be 18 years old, but I have been faced with many realities. For instance, it is very unlikely that things will always turn out the way you want them to. When your back is up against the wall, you have two choices. You can complain about how you got there, or you can find a way to fight back and come out on top. This choice applies to almost all sports and to many other situations in life. My question to you is are you teaching your players the right choice?"
Many of the people who read OnMilwaukee.com are young parents and they have kids
who are going to be playing sports. It's okay for kids to compete, and compete hard. It's
fine for them to have a burning desire to win. They should know that it's important to
But never, ever forget, that it is, after all, just a game. And it's their game, not yours.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.