Chris Johnson: Little Leaguers should just meet in the kudzu patch

July 15, 2012 

Last week's episode of Idiot Youth League Parents Strike Back at Columbus' Britt David Park has caused me to do some thinking. And that's saying something because it's been years since I've done any thinking.

My very first summer as a sports writer was 1989, and I was a lot closer to having been a youth leaguer than I was to being a full-fledged grown-up. I was forced for the first time to sit at ballgames and view them objectively.

I would learn a few things rather quickly: (1) Referees and umpires don't cheat, even if you bark about every call that goes against your team. (2) Ballpark food will make you fat in a hurry. And (3) there's always at least one overzealous idiot parent at the game, usually hanging on the fence berating his own kids, distracting the other team's kids and, of course, accusing the umpire or referee of having taken some sort of payoff to throw a game in favor of the Jim Bob's Transmission Repair Giants at the expense of Bucky's All-You-Can-Eat Gutbuster Buffet Bulldogs.

Over the years, I'd see much more of the same. In one city, I saw the head of a prominent youth organization put all of the league's best baseball players on one team, so that they could get used to playing together before all-star season came around - and annihilating every other team in his league, and a lot of kids' self-esteem along the way.

As the years went on, I saw coaches push players from other teams. I saw coaches go at other coaches. I saw umpires threatened. I got to the point I expected such behavior from adults and dreaded any time I had to cover any youth sports.

But do you know the part of it I actually enjoyed? The youth. And I can't recall any such ugly incidents involving kids. I do recall seeing wide-eyed kids staring in disbelief, shock and shame as parents lost their cool. I felt sorry for them.

Adults can certainly be valuable in teaching skills on the playing field, and a few can even pass along some lessons in class and sportsmanship. But if 30 adults and 30 kids are at a playing field, my money will always be on the adults to produce the bigger share of loudmouths with a lack of class.

When I was growing up, I played organized youth league baseball, basketball and football - albeit none of them too well. But the vast majority of baseball, football and basketball I played as a child was without adult supervision or interference. I don't recall any of them ending with arrests.

The neighborhood kids would gather in the kudzu patch across from my house and play baseball. Let me tell you, it takes skills to chase down a fly ball in a kudzu patch. And Lord knows if you don't catch it, it might be an hour and a half before you find it. We played basketball on dirt courts with crooked goals, rotting wood backboards and half-gone nets. We played football games that required running around trees in the back yard and jumping over ditches and scupplin' vines. (We played a lot in my next-door-neighbors' front yard until I got tackled by their dad's Ford LTD.)

We umpired our own games. We may have disagreed from time to time, but our goal was to play fair and play the game right. We may have argued over whether a ghost runner could have advanced to third or whether the skinny pine or fat oak tree was out of bounds, but we managed to work it out like grown-ups should … without coming to blows.

We played for the love of the game and loved the games enough to play at least 300 days a year even without adults being involved any further than my dad coming out on the front porch and letting loose that high-pitched whistle heard all across my hometown that let me know supper was ready and I'd better be running my very last down-and-out. By that point in time, I was usually too tired to jump over the scupplin' vine anyway.

I think kids often would be better served to leave the grown folks at home and go find themselves a secluded kudzu patch to play in. Besides, it takes true athleticism to high-step it through a kudzu patch. High-stepping through an SEC secondary should be a piece of cake after that.

It just seems like so often our society pushes kids to act like grown-ups. Maybe what we need is a few more grown-ups to act like kids.

Chris Johnson is an independent correspondent. Follow him at

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