Youth baseball association puts fun into learning sport

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

September 30, 2001

SPORTS FOR kids is by no means a grim thing for young ones. Not all the time, anyway, or even most of it under most coaches. But because of some parents and some coaches, playing a game can, indeed, seem more job than joy for many children.

There's hope, though, in altering that.

We wrote July 1 about the Howard County Youth Program's 2-year-old summertime experiment in having players show up at an appointed time simply to play baseball, choosing up sides on their own with no adult coaches, no uniforms, no standings, no leagues - just fun and learning by doing.

Add to that a wrinkle being tried this fall by the Columbia Youth Baseball Association. That's Sunday clinics divided into teaching basic skills in small groups, followed by playing the game - with no scores, no leagues and lots of positive reinforcement for trying.

"I told parents that our objective was to give kids a noncompetitive environment where there's no pressure, where they could learn skills, have fun, and just be kids," said Dan Scafone, the association's finance vice president and veteran travel-level coach.

"I said, `When Abner Doubleday invented this game, it wasn't so players could eventually make millions of bucks; it was a game for simple people to enjoy - a game they could play for fun.'"

CYBA's wrinkle starts with 5- and 6-year-olds who tried T-ball for the first time this spring and includes 7- and 8-year-olds.

The clinic on fields near Harper's Choice Middle School in Columbia gives each player five or six minutes of individual instruction in each of five basic skills - batting, throwing, catching grounders, catching balls in the air and base-running.

"We want to teach kids it's OK to fail, that baseball is a game of failure," said Scafone, a Dorsey's Search resident who until this spring, when he coached just one travel team, had been leading two (meaning 70 or so games) for a decade. "We've gotten too much into an environment that says `unless you win, you're a failure.' That's just not so, because in baseball you can make outs seven or eight times out of each 10 times you go to bat, and you're still considered successful."

There's an unwritten agenda here, too, for baseball, in particular. It's this: The grand old American game is under pressure everywhere to attract and retain young players. In Howard County, especially, soccer and lacrosse exercise powerful pulls on the ranks of youngsters available for springtime games.

"We added the 7- and 8-year-olds to the clinic," Scafone said, "because we didn't have enough players to form a league this spring. That's true for players a few years older, as well."

The situation is not unique to the association, which took part this spring in new countywide youth baseball leagues for recreation-level players that were formed by the county's Department of Recreation and Parks. Every county youth baseball organization sent teams to those leagues for the very same reason, a shrinking player base.

Duathlon update

Three of four Howard countians who qualified for mid-September's annual world duathlon championships - cycling and running as one combined event - in Rimini, Italy, took part. Given the terrorist attacks back home Sept. 11, the experience provided more memories than anticipated for all three.

"We did our best despite the events back home that haunted us," said Columbian Judi Carbary, sixth among women between ages 50 and 54, about 3 1/2 minutes shy of a medal. Afterward, she said she met "many people concerned about the United States" while touring parts of Italy and Austria.

Ellicott City's father-and-son U.S. team members, Don and Adam Forgione (profiled on this page Aug.12) left home Sept. 10 and learned of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks not long after awakening in Europe - via MTV-Europe.

The elder Forgione said International Triathlon Union organizers gave American competitors the option - none accepted it - of not wearing their USA uniforms.

Patrick Forgione, 12, with his family but not competing, was chosen as the U.S. team's flag bearer, in front of all competing national teams during opening ceremonies. It was an unexpected honor documented the next day on the local newspaper's front page.

Flags everywhere were lowered to half-staff, Don Forgione said. U.S. team members fashioned black armbands from whatever material they could find.

"We did ours with black electrical tape," he said, adding: "A lot of our teammates talked about how people came up to them to express their sorrow and gave them hugs."

On the way home, his family visited the American Embassy in Rome, Forgione said. "There was a huge pile of flowers outside and tons of guys carrying automatic weapons."

Adam Forgione, a Mount Hebron senior who raced in rain that caused many spills, finished fourth at the 16-19 junior level by 2 seconds, just missing the bronze medal.

His father was 10th among men 50 to 54, his best performance in three world age-group events.

Glenelg Country School Principal Trey Cassidy's flight of Sept. 11 was canceled. He was one of about 20 American qualifiers who missed racing for the same reason.

Call the writer at 410-332-6525 or address e-mail to lowell.sunderland @baltsun.com.

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