I’ve watched the news and seen the soccer moms and high-school football dads come out of the stands to attack referees. I’ve seen the Little League World Series on television and marveled at what this program has become. When fifth graders are showing off their Tommy Johns surgery scars, you’ve got to admit that we’ve arrived.
I’ve roamed the mall and watched the surly moppets rampage through the food court eager to grow into teen-agers who can prowl shops freely spending their afternoons scuffing down the aisles, sneering at the customers and flashing gang-signs they’ve seen their heroes use in the latest iteration of Grand Theft Auto. My God, you’ve got to question a society that has fostered a block-buster, mega-million generating video game modeled on felony criminal activity.
We’ve got tattoos, body piercings (some in places I always thought were quite sensitive), and hair dyed in colors not found in nature. Clothing ranges from the barely there to the blatantly offensive. I’ve watched T-shirts come by that say things I wouldn’t even consider uttering in the darkest reaches of an Olangapo brothel. But then I’m distracted by the fourteen year-old nymphette with the Harley Davidson tattoo across her lumbar region just above her two-inch rise painted on hip-huggers. I’m marveling at the surgeon or the hormones that developed her so quickly and consider what my less-evil-than-I’d-thought teen years would have been like had this been available.
That is when it occurred to me. There should be a place in hell for the evil genius who invented Little League Baseball. It should be right next to the Pop Warner Football guy. They can be standing on the shoulders in the molten lake over the guys who created the first Atari game and the tailor who cut down the first cheer-leader costume to fit a four-year old. They don’t rank down there with Hitler and Stalin and Attila, but they don’t deserve much better.
You see, they are the ones that stole our innocence. They organized that which should rightly be left to the children to figure out for themselves.
I grew up in Chicago, in the city. It was a nice neighborhood with a couple of mid-sized apartment buildings and a lot of single family homes. We had a small park in the neighborhood that had a football field, a grassy area nearby for whatever you wanted to do, a field house for community activities, a tennis court/basketball court, and a playground with swings, teeter-totter, and a sand-box. Total size of the park? Maybe four acres, tops.
We all walked to school. Some of us went to the Catholic school, most to the Chicago public elementary school (grades K-8) and one or two went to the Lutheran school. When school was out, we came home to change clothes and roll out onto the streets. Somebody brought a ball, a bat or something else appropriate for play. Summer meant softball. In Chicago that was 16-inch softball played without gloves, so not much equipment was required. Fall was football. Spring meant a bit of basketball, but that wasn’t very popular in my neighborhood. In winter the football field was flooded by the park and we went ice-skating which might mean a hockey stick and puck showed up.
There was no organization. No uniforms. No leagues. No referees. No parents. It could have been Hobbesian, survival of the fittest, a jungle. Actually it was more Aristotle and Socrates writ small with maybe a bit of Leonardo da Vinci thrown in.
The equipment showed up with some kids. We decided what we wanted to do. It was a democratic process. It depended upon the season, the available equipment and the number of us there. We learned to bargain, accept the outcome, and live with results. We always had fun.
If softball, there would never be full teams, so we created games. We might choose sides into two teams of however many and then declare right field an automatic out because there was no fielder. “Pitcher’s hands out” was common with no first-baseman. No need for balls and strikes, there was no fun unless the ball was in play. If too few for teams, we played “peggy-move-up” in which there were two batting player in and the rest of the field would rotate each time there was an out. Make out, you go to center field, then left, then shortstop, then second base, then pitcher, then you get to bat again. Total seven players required. Close plays? Decision by consensus and get back to playing.
Football meant a ball, but no pads usually. Might be touch, two-hand touch, or tackle. Might allow blocking but no rushing the passer. Might not be more than trying to kick field goals. Basketball usually meant shooting “horse” or three-on-three half-court.
We learned to organize, negotiate, plan, play and occupy ourselves while at the same time associating with our neighbors and having a lot of fun. I never heard or saw anyone whine to an adult that “there’s nothing to do.” I never heard or saw anyone sit waiting for a parent to chauffeur them to a formal athletic practice, ballet class, tai-kwan-do lesson, or uniform fitting.
Then Little League and Pop Warner showed up. Kid games got gentrified and parents got involved. Kids learned dependence rather than the independence of childhood. Parents demonstrated rage and swearing along with the superiority of intense competition over fun. An enlightened suburbia introduced self-esteem and with no victor, kids lost motivation.
Add some self-stimulation with video games and the opportunity to immerse daily in a cesspool of counter-culture to get the current state of affairs. Stir well with helicopter parents to get a fetid mixture.
Next time you drive buy a park stop for a few seconds and look around. Are there any paths in the grass looking like a make-shift, paced off baseball diamond? Do you see any groups of kids in random clothes throwing a ball around in some semblance of a professional sport but without a grandstand, uniforms or a referee? Is there anyone out there at all?
You bet those Little League guys belong in the Seventh Level. They stole childhood development from several generations of our society and made the term synonymous with psycho-babble educational specialists selling top dollar school programs and uniforms for pre-pubescent cheer leaders.