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Supporting Youth Sports

Apr 25th, 2014 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

Nick KemperWe hear stories every day about how this industry is like a family. No, not yelling and screaming at each other or picking on little brothers. That’s not what I mean. When someone needs a hand, they always find several reaching out to them. I recently experienced this, and I’ll tell you how it went down.

Last fall I volunteered to be on the board of a youth baseball league. My son is going to be 11 in June and he’s been playing since he was five. Many of you have been on non-profit boards. It’s no picnic. One of the primary nuisances, among many, is fund-raising. Most of us have never had to stand on the side of the off-ramp with a piece of cardboard in our hands, but I imagine that it feels a little like trying to get a youth sports league funded.

Our player registration costs are mid-range, and it seems like we’re always leaning on our families to fund the league. First there is registration. Then you have to sell some chocolate. Then we’d like each team to put together a basket to auction off at our opening day event. Then each team needs to secure a sponsor. Oh, and if you want to add in two or three weekend tournaments to your season you’ll need to find additional sponsors or maybe wash some cars, or get everyone you know to Panda Express in a four-hour window of opportunity.

It gets old for the families. This year we have several teams that have had a hard time finding sponsors. Now the ideal sponsor is a local business that can support youth sports, get a tax deduction for their donation and we can promote their business for them and hopefully help push some redirected spending their way in exchange for their support. However, it’s tough all over so many local businesses balk at it, so to speak, and if you don’t have a personal connection with that business owner or manager it’s even harder.

So in a moment of desperation I asked some of our suppliers and customers if they would help. I’m sure you know what happened right? They did. They didn’t even hesitate. How will B/A Products or Collins Manufacturing benefit by sponsoring one of our teams? Doesn’t matter — they gave anyway. How will Action Towing in Gonzales, La., or AA Action Towing in Vegas get any tows by helping out some kids in Gresham, Oregon? Doesn’t matter — they gave anyway. I am proud to know these people.

A couple months ago I spoke at an Optimists Club meeting here in Gresham, talking about our baseball program, and I wondered, what do I have to say to these people? They are members of our community, but many of them who don’t have kids or grandkids in the age group that we cater to. Many of them don’t own or run businesses, and can’t afford to donate to our fundraising efforts. But they’re Optimists, right? You just try to say something meaningful, and let them take it from there.

What I settled on was talking about how athletes are better, more active students. About how most business leaders played youth sports. I talked about teamwork, and I mentioned that the kids playing in our league would be working in this community in 10-15 years and wouldn’t we like them to learn now how to work together, how to set and achieve goals, how to learn a new skill?

And then I talked about the state of professional and collegiate sports, about how PEDs are a bigger story than the sport itself, about how money changes something that is very pure for an 11-year-old: competing and having fun.

If we want our professional sports systems to reflect values that we want our children to grow up with and learn, if we want our kids to be able to find role models in the professional sports systems, then we have to create them. The solution is not out there. It’s right here. It’s spending time teaching a young athlete about fairness and respect and sportsmanship and perseverance, so that he or she succeeds and becomes that role model. Why do we look to Alex Rodriguez or Tiger Woods to set an example? Forget them. Let’s build examples.

In our middle schools here, we only have track left as a school sport. Everything else has been budgeted out. When I was in middle school, there were three to six sports every season to choose from. And you went to the locker room after school and dressed down for practice. And you practiced or played games right after school. You got on a bus and rode to another school for a game. They gave you a school uniform, and you used school equipment, and you know what it cost? Zero. Yes, it was a long time ago, but not that long. My parents both worked, so they hardly ever made it to my games. We had one coach — not five dads all spouting off different instructions. One of the players coached first base. Another one kept the scorebook. Hardly anyone’s parents were at the games — just some cute girls. You know what that’s called? Heaven.

Last month I met with a representative from our school district about administering a baseball program at the middle schools. It would be a huge undertaking. We have a good program, but it’s not the best program for the kids. It’s the kind of program that the parents want — they control everything that happens. But dads coaching is not the best thing for the players. It’s just not. And taking away the high school coach’s ability to create a proper feeder system and work with middle school coaches who teach proper fundamentals is hurting the game. Tournament teams and year-round baseball are not helping the sport, and they’re not helping the kids who want to be good baseball players.

So hopefully we’ll get the green light to make this small change and make a slight course correction for baseball and the kids who want to play it. One thing that definitely has changed — it ain’t going to be free. I’ve already calculated the projected expense and it’s ridiculous. So if you didn’t get the chance to help us out first time around, I won’t turn you away now. Or better yet, talk to someone in your community about this type of program and give them my contact info if they want help, and when they say they need money to get it going, reach into your wallet and give. Let’s stop waiting for the guy who makes $25 million a year to change a broken system. Let’s pull together 25 million people instead.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper