Youth club settles score of overlapping seasons

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

November 30, 2003|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

YOU HEAR this line of complaint over and over if you hang around youth sports even a short time:

Sports seasons overlap too much, and too many coaches want kids to play one sport nearly year-round, thus losing the chance to experience others. And all with a result being that too many children are playing and practicing more often than is desirable physically and mentally.

The worst scenario of all is a child who leaves school, practices with, say, a soccer team, gobbles down dinner, and then goes off to hockey, or basketball, or indoor lacrosse, or swimming, or baseball or softball. It can't be anything but exhausting.

Understand. We're not picking on leaders of any of these sports because the complaint touches every sport out there from January through December.

Frankly, we don't know if there's a "right" answer, and, no, we're not hinting at returning to the long-gone days when lacrosse was the spring game (around Baltimore, anyway), baseball was the summer game, football was a fall game, and basketball and hockey were winter games. That'll simply never be the case again.

Still, while all of this organized play is probably OK for a few young athletes, the drive to excel early in any given sport probably does as much as anything to kill so many youngsters' desire to play by the time they're 12 or 13.

Two weeks ago, the New York Times reported that a backlash of parents might be forming to this dark side of youth athletics, although the evidence it provided seemed thin and overly anecdotal.

But call it coincidence, being trendy, or just a blend of good timing and common sense, a new Howard County youth sports club has recently faced the issue head-on and decided enough is enough.

The Columbia Ravens, a youth football organization that emerged early this year out of last winter's financial wreck of the defunct Columbia Bulldogs, is starting anew in an additional sport this winter -- basketball.

The Ravens, faced with a number of players wanting to begin basketball in other groups while still playing football, decided not only to bar the crossover, but also to provide an alternative, its own basketball teams.

(We should add an aside here: The football season ended quite nicely for the Ravens, who won two age-group championships in the 2-year-old Central Maryland Football League and were runners-up in another.)

"We decided that with a season that runs into next spring, there's more than enough time for basketball," said Melvin Powell, the Columbia businessman who is president of the Ravens.

The Ravens, Powell said, expect to field four boys basketball teams -- two each in the under-10 and under-12 age groups -- that will play in travel leagues in Baltimore and Montgomery counties.

"We've gotten a late start," Powell continued, "but we want to learn from this season and maybe we'll expand next year. There's definitely interest."

Along the sidelines

RUNNING: Mike Styczynski, who went to River Hill High School, became an All-America in cross country with a 24th-place finish for Ithaca (N.Y.) College in the NCAA Division III championships. A senior this year, Styczynski qualified for the NCAA meet as an individual by finishing second in Atlantic regionals. He had been in three previous NCAA finals with Ithaca's team.

SPECIAL OLYMPICS: The state Special Olympics organization has cited two Howard County businesses for their continuing assistance with the program: Timbers at Troy Golf Course in Elkridge and Quest Fitness Center in Ellicott City.

Timbers has provided more than $10,000 in "in-kind" donations a year for the last six years by allowing Special Olympians to use the course, with the number of golfers having grown from eight originally to 35. Quest provides about $7,000 a year in services year-round with its training program, the state group said in a news release.

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

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