Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Too Good to Play?

I'm pretty sure I've seen it all now: A youth baseball league player in New Haven, Connecticut has been disqualified from his league because fastball is too fast. He hits 40 miles an hour with that pitch on a regular basis, but he has yet to hit anybody this season. Still, the league told Jericho Scott's coach that he couldn't pitch anymore, and when he did take the mound anyway, the opposing team forfeited and walked away. Now, the league is trying to disband the team.

Maybe this is the key paragraph here:
Jericho's coach and parents say the boy is being unfairly targeted because he turned down an invitation to join the defending league champion, which is sponsored by an employer of one of the league's administrators.
I sure hope that's not true, but it wouldn't surprise me; adults seem to do a really good job of messing up kids' sports leagues on occasion.

So what's the answer to this? Move Jericho up to a league with older kids? Or is his coach, Wilfred Vidro, right on the money when he says, "How can you punish a kid for being too good?"

This may or may not be relevant, but, as a music teacher (or, if you wish, a "fine arts coach"), I feel compelled to make a comparison between this and my own field. Over the years, I've had some protégés who were good enough to play with our college groups while still in high school (some as early as their sophomore year). A lot of these same people also got to play gigs for money before they reached college as well. Wouldn't it have been ridiculous if the University Interscholastic League (UIL), which governs high school competitions in Texas, had decided that these people were "too good" and were no longer allowed to compete for, say, All-Region Jazz Band, or even to perform in their school programs at all? This would be completely wrong, no matter how many other kids got "hurt feelings" from competing against someone that good. (Indeed, by the time one of these guys was a senior, only one person even opposed him at the region level. I thought that the rest of the region was being collectively wimpy for staying home that day.)

Here's another example: In grad school, I directed the Six O'Clock Lab Band at UNT. We got the chance to go to a festival in Oklahoma that was just starting a college division. There were four or five other bands in there already, from smaller schools that tended to be named after a diagonal compass point in Oklahoma or Arkansas. I was looking forward to seeing how my band compared to them (me, a graduate teaching fellow, going up against full-time professors in front of the top bands from other schools). I figured I'd learn a lot that weekend.

But when we got there, we were more than a little disappointed to discover that all the other bands had dropped out! All of them! When they found out that a band from the legendary North Texas program had entered the fray, they all bailed. If I'd been the director at Podunk Tech, I would have loved to see how my band compared to the sixth group from a vaunted program. But they chose to back out, and their students--not to mention themselves--lost out on that experience, as did my guys and myself. (We still got another performance, a roadtrip, some judges' comments and a good recording out of the deal, as well as a trophy that proclaimed us the "winner" of the festival, though that lost more than a bit of its luster for us.)

OK, back to Jericho. Sporting News blogger "blackbandit20" thinks that not only is Jericho being cheated, but so are his would-be opponents:
I always thought it a challenge to try to get a hit off of a fireballer. When I was in high school, I was a benchwarmer on my high school team and one of the few highlights of my career was getting three hits off a future major league pitcher. This pitcher brought 90-95 mph heat and for some strange reason that day I had him timed. But there was the challenge but these kids are being told that this kid is too good and that to face him is tatamount to failing, that is wrong.

[...]When I played, I wanted to win and play well of course. If I didnt, I knew I had to play harder and do my best. My mom went to every baseball game I played and before every game, only said "Do your best and have some fun." I think that it isnt the kids who are afraid, its the parents who have softened the game up to the point where the fun and challenge have been taken out. These are the same parents who are more concerned about looking bad because they are afraid that their kid isnt a star, so instead they make the rules so soft that everyone gets a trophy, everyone is a winner. The kids who excel are brought down. It seems that its an extreme on either point, parents who push their kids to be the ultimate best or parents who want everyone to be mediocre. That is a bad on either end.
Agreed. And does the "everyone is a winner" attitude remind anyone else of the DISD grading flap that we were discussing here last week?

Here's one more thought from blackbandit20:
Personally, I didnt play on a title winning team till I got into college and won a summer league intermural softball title, but I always had fun and thats what it should be. I knew that there were better players and I learned to step my game up to compete and win. I learn that you cant always win but to try your best and give max effort. These kids should be able to learn that too, they might not get hits off of Scott, but they can give their best effort. And maybe just maybe they might get a hit off of him and be able to build on that acheivement.
Well said. Read the whole thing.

So should Jericho be allowed to pitch to kids his own age? Should he have to move up a division? And what kind of message is all of this sending to Jericho and to the other kids?

Another view: Eugene Volokh comes down in favor of having Jericho move up a division, saying that the disparity of ability would take all the fun out of it for the other players. I think that, as long as nobody is getting hurt, I tend to agree with blackbandit20 more than Volokh on this issue.

UPDATE: After having read the comments to the Volokh post, I found some more good points that support my argument:
1) I didn't even think about the fact that, if Jericho were required to play in an older league, he'd have to leave all his friends on his current team behind. That's important when you're nine years old. (And older, sometimes.)

2) Commenter A.S. wins the thread with this: "...Michael Phelps should be disqualified from the Olympics, so that they could let all the other swimmers - men with roughly the same level of ability, clearly lesser than Michael Phelps - compete against each other.

Where's the fun of Olympic swimming when all those other athletes know that they are not good enough to compete with Michael Phelps?

Well said. I added my own comment at the bottom of the thread, offering up the music analogy and getting in a swipe at the DISD policy as well.

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my former protégé C-Rod. (He was one of those who started playing with our college groups as a high schooler, which prompted me to make the comparison above.)

1 comment:

KJGreen (blackbandit20) said...

This post was over a year ago, but I appreciate you quoting my post.