It takes a village

Kids came to Rogers Sports Complex in droves this week.

I took my young daughter to her first t-ball clinic there on Monday, and my son to his second-grade ”spring training” session the next evening. Future baseball and softball players were everywhere.

Fort Dodge Parks and Recreation administrator Ryan Maehl was expecting around 450 participants to join this year’s inaugural Recreation Alliance youth leagues, which combines the city’s parks and recreation programs with the Fort Dodge Community REC Center, the Fort Dodge Baseball Association and the Fort Dodge Girls Fastpitch Association for the first time.

As of Friday, that number had already been surpassed.

”And we’re still expecting more, between the last-minute (registrants) and the out of town kids and teams,” Maehl said. ”We’re starting to anticipate somewhere in the neighborhood of 550 to 575 now. Those are the new numbers we’re building around.”

Area youngsters aren’t the only group on board. Coaches and players from the four local high school programs are heavily involved, as well as many representatives from both the FDBA and FDGFA.

”They offer the kind of instruction and expertise someone like myself or (FDCRC recreation director) Nick Ford just can’t provide,” Maehl said. ”We truly appreciate their cooperation. It’s easy to sit down in the winter months and make promises about being involved. They have all followed through, which only enhances the programs and experiences of the kids.

”You have to remember that their seasons are right around the corner. To receive instruction from a Bo or Chrissy Tjebben, or a Blake Utley, or a Joe Shanks, or even a high school player – that just enhances the product and the value families are getting for the money they’re spending. It’s priceless.”

FDBA president Nick Pederson told me was amazed – and a bit overwhelmed – by the number of young baseball players in camp. As of Tuesday, 91 kindergarten and first grade boys were signed up to participate.

”You know coming in that the young kids will be your biggest group, but none of us were expecting quite that many,” Maehl said. ”It’s a great problem to have, though. Definitely. You’re never going to complain about having too many kids in a program.

”We faced similar growing pains with (the first year of the Recreation Alliance basketball this past winter), when we had 354 kids and 42 teams. Did we plan for that many? No. But it was awesome and we adjusted. In year one, it’s still a learning experience and a process for us.”

The registration period for baseball and softball ends this Tuesday, and must be done in person at either the home office of the Fort Dodge Parks and Recreation Department or the FDCRC. Practices officially start May 5, with the season beginning May 19.

Maehl knows the transition won’t always be seamless. In the long run, though, the league is exactly what the area needs.

”Change is difficult at first – even when it’s ultimately for the better,” Maehl said. ”It won’t be perfect right away, but we know that through hard work and the tremendous support, this program will improve by the day. We’re already reaping the benefits.

”Our goal is to make it both educational and enjoyable for the kids. They are our best marketing source. If they have a great time, they tell their friends about it. Word of mouth creates great momentum.”

I’ve always admired the proverb, ”a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Our community is starting to truly embrace this concept, with the newly-formed Recreation Alliance paving the way.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net