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Similar testimony can be had for the asking wherever Little League exists. Yet it isn't all that bad.
"About once a year," says Arthur L. Fleshman, who has been active in a suburban league near Albany, N.Y. for four years, "we have trouble with parents. An individual parent might get out of hand now and then by hollering at his kid from the stands. We face up to it and tell him to keep his mouth shut. After that there isn't any more trouble."
Cheers from a mother
"As the mother of a boy who played in Little League," says Mrs. Mary E. Junkins of Morgantown, W. Va., "I want to shout three cheers for the league. The boys are learning good conduct, sportsmanship and how to handle themselves, and they are building their lives on a constructive basis. I think if some of us adults had some of the training these boys are getting there would be no red-faced fathers calling names at the games."
Acutely aware of The Great Parent Problem, national officials at Williamsport have earmarked funds in the new $1 million Little League Foundation for an extensive program in adult leadership training and child psychology. Meanwhile, until the foundation becomes a going concern, they encourage the growth of local clinics for adults, like the well-established one at Mineola, N.Y.
These officials emphasize that one of the ideals of Little League is to stimulate the development of an intimate relationship between son and parents—to interest the parents, especially fathers, who "don't have enough time" to get to know their sons. In practice, they contend, this greatly overbalances the harm done by the minority of thoughtless or self-seeking parents.
Of nearly as much concern as the parents are the managers. They are not required to have professional training either in child care or baseball, a fact that has started the tongue of many a physical education specialist. Some managers, to be sure, have sent their teams out to win at any cost; some have boggled over letting the least talented players have a reasonable chance to play. Where the local league directors insist upon high standards of sportsmanship among the managers, the problem is minimized.
"The quality of the people in our league," says Alex T. Franz Jr. of Wilmette, Ill., "is very high. The thing is handled very, very carefully." Boyd Simmons, a Little League district director and veteran newspaperman, speaks up from Detroit: "All those adults participating are fathers and certainly qualified to handle their youngsters at play if they are qualified to handle them at home. Maybe some of them don't know baseball, but they sure know kids. These are the same adults who are running the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, PTA and service clubs in the community, and those groups are thriving under their leadership."
Aside from the paramount problems of competition and the attitudes and qualifications of adults, the Little League undergoes considerable sniping from time to time on other questions. Foremost among these is what the political parties would call the matter of "equal time." Virtually every parent wants his son to be able to play as often and as long as the next boy. In practice this almost never works out, but in many local areas the adult leaders have adopted rules assuring every eligible team member an opportunity to play at least part of every game. For example, in Hamtramck, Mich. a really highly developed program enables every Little Leaguer to participate in 40 games on the average each summer. The all-star team for tournament playoffs is picked in the third week of July; the rest of the players carry on until Labor Day. Hamtramck wisely has a "farm" league setup for boys who fail to make the regular teams. Leagues which fail to satisfy the demand for playing time soon encounter stormy weather. Mutinous parents can be extremely persuasive.
Little League is occasionally criticized from the standpoint of the child's health and safety. "Children 12 years of age and under," says the American Academy of Pediatrics, "are particularly susceptible to bone and joint injury because the growing ends of the long bones have not yet calcified and because they do not possess the protection of adult musculature." The Academy condemns body-contact sports for preteen-agers but condones baseball, with the rider that highly competitive tendencies should be guarded against. In addition there have been medical warnings against carrying children's athletic competition "past the stage of healthful fatigue to harmful exhaustion." Physicians invariably recommend a physical examination for children entering athletic pursuits. The Little League recommends such a thoroughgoing examination for all players at the start of each season.