I love sports -- Always have -- Always will. A little plaque sits on my desk that reads "Without sports, weekends would be weekdays."
Born and raised in Tracy, about 50 miles from San Francisco, I grew up a Giants and 49ers fan.
Although there are details from last week I can't remember, I do remember watching quarterback John Brodie, behind the blocking of Leo Nomellini, throwing passes to R.C Owens and Monty Stickles and the big hits from linebacker Matt Hazeltine at Kezar Stadium some 50 years ago.
Likewise, not much in life was better back then than my dad taking my brother and I to Candlestick Park to watch super-heroes Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Jim Davenport, Juan Marichal, Jose Pagan and Felipe Alou beat the Dodgers and their stars Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Johnny Roseboro, Duke Snider, Maury Wills and Tommy Davis.
Why the stroll down memory lane? I guess it was triggered by a stop last Saturday at the opening ceremonies for Sierra Mountain Little League at the Oakhurst Community Center.
Although the Little Leaguers could not actually play due to the storm drenching the fields the night before, there were plenty of smiling faces for the team photos and fun playing carnival games. From the four year olds who are still deciding to run to first or third base after hitting the ball, to the 'seasoned' 12 year olds who's skills are growing as fast as their feet, there were plenty of youngsters glutching new gloves and proudly wearing Giants, Dodgers, A's, Angels, Lookouts, Bandits and Rivercat jerseys.
In addition to the fun of playing the game, Little League will teach children teamwork, positive work habits, discipline, how to set and achieve goals and how to succeed (win) and fail (lose) with dignity. Actually, the majority of children in youth sports handle losing pretty well - A lot of them can't even tell you the score of the game when it's over and the players seem to get over a loss much quicker than some parents.
Speaking of Little League parents -- By far the majority just want to provide their sons and daughters a fun, social and confidence-building activity, but there are always a few dads and moms who cross the line of healthy support and encouragement.
Almost all parents believe their child should play more or play at a different position and because of that, it is very difficult for parents to be objective.
There is no place in Little League for over-zealous parents yelling at umpires, opposing team parents or coaches. Yet, it still happens. When a parent criticizes a referee, he is teaching the child that it is OK to challenge authority and be disrespectful.
Last season, two parents of players on opposing teams at a Little League game in Coarsegold, had to be separated after their verbal abuse of each other over an umpires call almost escalated to fist-a-cuffs.
I remember when Bruce Brown, a 35-year baseball, volleyball, football and basketball coach and motivational speaker, addressed parents at Yosemite High School about 10 years ago. He told parents there were four roles during a game -- Athlete, coach, official (referee or umpire) and spectator -- And told parents they can't be all four.
If you want to coach, make the commitment to learn the game and spend three hours a day, five days a week coaching -- If you want to be an umpire, go to umpire school. Brown said the role of parents as spectators is to cheer and provide positive encouragement during a game.
Brown said the single most important contribution a parent can make during a game is to model appropriate behavior.
His advice to parents:
Attend a many games as possible.
Exhibit appropriate behavior - encourage, don't be a critic.
Attempt to relieve competitive pressure - not increase it.
Look upon opponents as friends involved in the same experience.
Accept the judgment of coaches and umpires.
Demonstrate winning and losing with dignity.
Build confidence - Don't say or do anything that will have the child feel like their self-worth is somehow tied to how they played in the game.
Youngsters love to have their parents at games, but when parents can't keep their emotions in check and embarrass their child in front of their friends, it's a safe bet the child would rather have the parent stay home.
Peggy Brannon has been a part of Sierra Mountain Little League for 42 years, starting as a score keeper, game announcer and coach, and has served on the league's volunteer board of directors for the past 25 years. She says the obvious: "Little League is for kids to have fun and learn a sport and parents need to encourage their children and not get so emotional at a game that it ruins the experience for everyone, including their own child."
First year league president Michelle Asten's advice to parents is "let the coaches coach, the umpires umpire and just enjoy watching your child participate."
Enough said -- Play ball.