“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it,” Ferris Bueller, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
Even 32 years after the iconic movie, that statement still rings true, especially when it comes to summer sports.
Believe it or not, we’re not far from the midway point of the American Legion baseball season for the Freshman and Junior levels. And, while the swim season started Monday, it’s only a six-week run from the first meet to the championship meet.
Yes, it would be pretty easy to miss summer sports in this area.
Why is that the case?
When I first started, it seemed that June, July and part of August were reserved for the nonschool sports. But every year, it seems the edges of the high school seasons continue to encroach upon the sanctity of the summer break.
The 2017-18 school year was a prime example. The first fall sports practices started July 31. The last championships were determined June 2. That gave the high school sports season a reach of just over 10 months and actual events in all 12. Doesn’t that seem a little excessive?
Fortunately, this year, the fall sports practices have been pushed back a week and athletes won’t have to report until Aug. 6 with the first football games Aug. 24. Last year, we were a day away from having three football games in August. That would be the case if the schedule went similar to last year. That means a third of the regular season would take place before September.
It would be nice to state that the area’s athletes are enjoying the break between school years and leisurely training. However, that’s not the case anymore. Many teams already have had at least one week’s worth of camps. And those teams will have a lot more hard work in store over the summer to prepare for the new school year. Weight training goes on year-round, no matter what season it is. If it weren’t for MSHSAA dead periods, some coaches would be holding de facto practices during the entire summer.
The first team I can remember working hard in the offseason was the 1993 Borgia football Knights, who went 14-0 and won the Class 3A state championship. That group was self-inspired and did much of its work on its own as a group. There was amazing leadership and camaraderie with that class. I can remember Kent Skorina being chased off the field because he always wanted to be out there working on passing.
The other thing that struck me with those kids was many of them played what was in season, whether it be football, basketball or baseball. These days, we have talented athletes who aren’t playing the summer sports because they’re working at camps or the weight rooms to improve in other sports. It’s a shame that we don’t have as many multiple-sport athletes.
While we have a very healthy American Legion baseball following in this area, the above has hurt the national pastime in some ways.
Many of our area’s Legion programs draw from one school, meaning that they have to get just about every good eligible player from the school program to be competitive. While opportunities open up for others if someone decides to concentrate on another sport, or play for a different program in St. Louis, that could hamper the local teams.
That gives a golden chance to players who do decide to play Legion baseball in the area. They get to play in front of nice-sized crowds and see a lot of baseball in a short time.
By the time I got here, the Washington Buds already were history. But, the Washington Post 218 program has ascended to the top. I have people who don’t have kids playing asking about when the Legion team is playing and how they’re doing. There is interest in the program from the community and it has become the local summer team.
It’s getting to be the same in Union, New Haven and other towns which have Senior Legion programs. At the younger levels, the fans enjoy getting to see the good players developing. It’s a shame that all of the top area baseball talent isn’t playing Legion baseball because I feel our teams could be competitive at a level beyond the Ninth District if the top players were on the Legion teams.
The true summer heroes are the folks who run and take care of the summer teams. It’s not like the rest of the year where you’ve got paid personnel handling most of the matters with the schools. Many of the people who take care of the summer teams are volunteers, or are being compensated very little for what they do. While some do it to coach their kids, there are a good number of coaches who have nobody playing and do it for the teams and to make sure the fundamentals are properly taught. Many also keep the area fields playable. In some areas, they’ve had to fight just to be able to develop their playing locations. They deserve thanks.
And this is where MSHSAA comes in once again. MSHSAA has decided that it has a place in summer sports as well. Its dead period legislation was meant to keep coaches from being able to turn summer into a two-month practice session, but it also affects other sports.
There will be times when Legion coaches, softball coaches or swim coaches will have to sit in the stands because it’s a dead period and they’re not allowed contact with the athletes. Some aren’t even coaching in the sport they handle during the school seasons, but don’t want to fall afoul of the MSHSAA rules. And, then there are contact days. Each program only has so many of them. That’s why some coaches have to “miss” games so that they stay within the rules.
There really needs to be an addendum to the contact rules to allow the traditional summer sports, which aren’t administered by MSHSAA, to have the coaches for the full season. MSHSAA shouldn’t have to overstep its authority with the nonschool sports, although I know there have been coaches who would look to exploit any potential loophole. That’s a shame.
It’s time that we let the kids have their summer once again.