Where are the kids? The vanishing fields in Parks and Rec

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I headed out to the Mount Olive Green Machine’s practice Saturday and talked to the head coach, Shane Aube, about his team just trying to get an outlook for its season. If my memory hasn’t failed me, I think there were about six or seven guys on his team at the practice.

He told me that has been a common theme and I had to ask, “Why aren’t kids showing up?” There wasn’t really one exact reason why the kids weren’t showing up, but I couldn’t help feel disappointed.

I coached a 12-and-under team for the first time with the Mount Olive Parks and Recreation Department this past spring and I have to say, for the most part, the experience was amazing. I had a bunch of talented kids who all had unique personalities, and I mean that in a good way. When I first got my roster though, I was taken aback. There were only 10 kids on my team and we were the only 12U team in Mount Olive.

There was no tryout or any hoops to jump through, so having only 10 kids for a sport where you field nine made me a little nervous. As a team, we played a couple of games with only seven players because kids didn’t show up. There was an occasion where I received communication that a kid wasn’t going to make it, but there were other times when I received zero communication and it was frustrating.

I know I shouldn’t compare, but when I was younger, I wasn’t forced to go out and play sports. That was the thing to do, but I didn’t have to be forced to do it. I have had some of the best experiences and learned some of the best lessons throughout my athletic career. That is why it’s frustrating to me that kids aren’t being encouraged to play sports. Some of my kids were at practice, but their mind was on playing video games like “Fortnite” or 2K when they got home. I had to tell myself it’s a different world now.

Through athletics, kids can grow, learn and begin to experience things at a young age, and there’s so much potential in Mount Olive. It’s almost cheating the town to not have a handful of different teams. We have talent here and the best way to showcase it is not to invest just into travel ball, but also into the Parks and Rec system.

Going through Parks and Rec gives kids an opportunity to get those reps without having to travel as far and allows them the opportunity to develop quicker than if they played travel ball and didn’t get any playing time. Travel ball is great, but if it takes away from developing and growing the local scene it could be harmful to a bunch of kids. Think about how much pride the town could have seeing talented athletes in their own backyard.

It seems programs like the Babe Ruth League have died out due to the amount of travel ball teams. And I will just say this, I understand that we want kids to get exposure, and that is why travel ball is a thing, but I’m confident by us investing kids back into Parks and Rec it will force the exposure to come back to the town, which is good for everyone.

T.J. Edwards is a staff writer for the Mount Olive Tribune. He can be reached at tjedwards@mountolivetribune.com.

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