There is a national trend that many youngsters are abandoning traditional sports by their early teens. Statistics indicate that 70% of kids quit playing organized sports by the age of 13. According to the National Alliance for Youth Sports, the percentage may increase to 80% by age 15. The primary reason for these numbers appears to be, “It’s just not fun anymore”. Traditionally, youth sports included participants aged 8 -12. However, when soccer programs developed leagues for youngsters under five years old, Little League Baseball saw this as a potential threat to their enrollment and implemented T-Ball Programs for children as young as three and four years of age. Currently Fresno, California Parks & Recreation is promoting preschool sports clinics for ages, “18 Months to 12 Years”. Also, another west coast city stages a six-week “Little Tacklers — Football Program”, for boys and girls ages 6 — 8 years, which includes a “team shirt, trophy, and end-of-season barbeque”.
Two generations removed from days when youngsters played in unstructured sports activities, rather than the organized, “community and pay-to-play sports”, more educators and critics are questioning organizational motives and benefits to participants. When youngsters in small towns like Tyrone organized their own play, games such as hide and seek, tag, kickball, and monkey-in-the middle were enjoyed. As the youths matured, softball, basketball, and touch football were common. As seasons of the year were changing, many days multiple sports were enjoyed. Teams were selected by “picking sides” and teammates changed each time games were played. Without adult supervision, arguments were settled by the competitors themselves. These situations were learning experiences and examples that, in day-to-day life, conflicts and disagreements are functions to be resolved. When a particular game was no longer fun, players quit and ultimately the game ended. Competitors developed their own reputations and the regular players could have rank-ordered participants by “leadership and fairness”, as well as “playing ability”. Other than playground vs. playground competition, new teams were picked for each game and opponents one day could be teammates the next. Game scores were kept and play continued as long as it was fun, or within parental times to be home. No snacks were provided and, in pickup games, no standings were recorded or trophies received. Winners of yesterday’s play was not important, when new players and teams were being selected. Each game played could have different players on each team.
Better players, of pickup sports, knew that the games would only continue as long as others in the group were having a positive experience. Before the 1951 organization of Little League Baseball in Tyrone, the players had learned the fundamentals of baseball and softball on community playgrounds and vacant lots. They also learned how to resolve game related disputes without adult intervention. After many summer days of youngsters just playing ball, with considerable publicity and anticipation, Little League Baseball became a reality in Tyrone. After tryouts and selection of four teams, the first official Tyrone Little League game was played on June 4, 1951. I was a member of the Dodgers, managed by “Junie” Brisbin, and we defeated the Pirates, of Clair Snyder, by a score of 6-5. Players on the two teams combined for 19 hits, 13 strikeouts, and only 4 errors. An estimated crowd of 2,500 individuals attended the opening contest. Following the game a consensus was, “These boys really know how to play ball!” However, comprehensive box scores were now published and the community knew the positive and negative performances of boys aged 12 and under. The Dodgers won the first pennant and under the outstanding guidance of Coach Brisbin, they also won league honors the next four seasons.
During the initial season, it was determined that a non-eligible aged player had played in over half of league games and he was dropped from the league. Also, there was a residence-eligibility question relative to another individual, that had to be resolved, and he did not play in Tyrone in the initial year. Since detailed box scores were published, it became common for spectators to cheer their team and to jeer the opposition. Also, apparently many spectators were of the opinion that all players of a given age should be the same size. Using this rationale, it was common for a number of first year Little Leaguers to be targets of both cheers and jeers.
When I visited the site in the summer of 2017, the Shea Field sign, honoring the longtime plant manager of Westvaco, was still on the property and brought back many memories.