This past weekend I was at a Warwick North Little League game, and one thing really stood out to me: how small the crowd was.
It was a 10 a.m. game on Saturday, with beautiful weather and a rare feeling of spring. When looking at the stands though, there couldn’t have been more than maybe 20, 30 spectators on each side.
Not that 50 or so people is a dud, but for the first time ever it really hit me how much Little League has changed in the past decade.
I have had coaches tell me numerous times across multiple states that other spring sports, like lacrosse for example, have been taking over and have been drawing these perspective kids away from America’s Pastime. I believed these coaches when they told me, but I figured it was no big deal and something that would be gradual.
Now, do I think Little League is endangered and on the brink of extinction? No, these leagues are still doing well and are having little to no trouble fielding enough teams to make a league. However, the change has finally become noticeable.
When I was a Little Leaguer back in the late 90’s, early 2000s, that is where the town would be on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon. Hundreds of people would gather, even if their kids were not playing. Watching Little League was like how high school football is, it was the thing to do, well, just because.
I have been on the record many times supporting Little League. I know that I am a bit biased here, but I feel like youth sports are the best way to socialize young kids and to teach them how to interact with one another, how to work together as a team, learn how to be coached, etc. I can’t stress that enough, youth sports are vital to the foundation of our youth.
But, would baseball eventually taking a backseat to other sports change things? Is there a chance that what was once and is currently the most popular sport nationally could fall off and make way for a new sport, like lacrosse?
It’s an interesting topic for sure. I love baseball, which will be my sport of choice to enroll my child in when the time comes. But do we need baseball though? Could lacrosse, or volleyball, golf, tennis, have the same effect on a community that Little League has had over the course of a century? Could those sports thrive the way baseball has?
I would say no, at least not in our lifetimes.
Baseball has been the nation’s top sport for nearly 200 years, and it is totally ingrained in our culture and heritage. Little League is such a strong organization that will continue to dominate the numbers, even if its grasp has slipped a little bit as of late.
For a new sport to come in and replicate what Little League has would take decades … look at this past decade for example … sure, other sports have gained some traction, but Little League is still the unquestioned top dog.
Look at the summer All-Star tournaments and Little League World Series. To suggest that any other youth sport is even close to reaching that level, where ESPN literally devotes an entire month of the year to cover it, would be wrong. Maybe football in the fall, but for spring sports? Little League is still miles ahead.
I guess the real question is, would Little League numbers dropping in favor of other sports be a bad thing? I would say no once again.
Sports are sports, especially when it comes to team competitions. Can coaches teach young kids the same values and principles on a lacrosse field that they can teach on a baseball diamond? I don’t see why not.
In fact, maybe that would be a good thing in actuality. If more of these secondary sports caught on and provided higher-functioning leagues, perhaps that would entice even more kids to be active and find a sport that they love. Even if the total number of kids playing sports remains the same, but the participants are spread out, where is the harm in that?
Like I said, this is not intended to be an PSA for Little League baseball, or suggest that it has finally reached the crisis mode. It is simply an observation that I have made recently.
Regardless of what sport your child plays, or what sports are offered in your community, as always, I highly suggest enrolling kids in some sort of athletic program. Even if you are not a parent, I would still suggest becoming involved in youth sports at some capacity, even if you just swing by to catch a game once in awhile.
It will be interesting to see in the coming years. Will there be a changing of the guard at some point in the future? Stay tuned.