An all-star event for rec-level players

The Howard County Youth Program summer tournament helps young ballplayers test their skills.

SUMMER In Howard County

July 27, 2005|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As in all youth sports, baseball operates with a hierarchy based mainly on ability. Beginners, players with limited skills, and some with conflicting spare-time pursuits stick to recreation-level teams and leagues. Kids with the best skills and, in some cases, kids being pushed hard by parents find themselves on travel teams, practicing more frequently and competing in regional rather than local leagues.

In general, travel players and their coaches are focused more on winning than those at the rec level. And travel-level players often find themselves in tournament play, heightening competitive juices. Rec-level play in baseball tends to end in early June, while many travel teams compete deep into summer.

Starting tomorrow and running through Sunday, the Ellicott City-based Howard County Youth Program is running its 25th summer tournament, an event distinguished by its requirement that players come from rec-level teams.

"Our travel teams get the opportunity to play in many, many locations," said Chris Garber, director of baseball for HCYP, which also has programs in softball, basketball and volleyball. `There aren't as many opportunities for the all-star-level rec kids to play. We want to promote that and give these kids a chance to play against kids from other programs -- and they can grow from that."

Age-group teams of players deemed by their springtime coaches to have promise of developing better skills will descend on HCYP's Kiwanis-Wallas complex in Ellicott City from the Baltimore area and Pennsylvania and Virginia.

This year's tournament includes competition in four groups. Four teams are scheduled in the 8-and-under, under-12 and under-14 divisions, along with three from the under-10 group. Teams are guaranteed four games -- three in preliminary play and then at least one in knockout play that will determine a champion in each age bracket.

"This is a chance to play against kids from other locations from around the county and even farther," said Garber.

Teams have come from a variety of leagues and states over the years, as HCYP has tinkered with the format. Tournament officials said that the event has brought in groups from Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Virginia and Washington.

The tournament hasn't gone on for 25 straight years. There were a few summers when it didn't take place. Travel teams also competed in it in some years. But the tournament has returned to using the all-star recreation team format for the past several summers, a niche the youth club will stick to for a while.

Ellicott City resident John Hein, HCYP's president as well as a longtime leader in baseball, has been involved with the tournament in numerous ways over its quarter-century of existence. Hein was selected to play on a team in the early years and got a brand-new Indians uniform, something he remembers more than 20 years later.

"I just thought that was so cool," Hein said.

Hein also has served in the tournament as a coach and an umpire, and he agreed with Garber about the competition's importance.

"This is an opportunity to shine for one weekend," Hein said. "That's something that they can remember. It's a special tournament."

Hein also said that holding the games at one location adds to the excitement. Many tournaments have games at different locations, but HCYP can do everything in one spot. That way everyone knows about schedules and scores and can see and hear other teams playing.

Tournament director Aaron Schwartz said this year's event will have a few different features to celebrate the all-volunteer club's 25th tournament.

For example, each manager at each game will be presented with a medal and a ribbon. At game's end, they will be asked to choose the opposing team's most valuable player and present the medal and ribbon.

"It's just another way to promote good sportsmanship on the field," Schwartz said. Schwartz also said that HCYP is promoting the tournament this year more than the travel program. He added that the organization's baseball program, which has more than 1,300 players, benefits from having a strong group of dedicated volunteers who will be vital in running a four-day tournament.

"It's very special to the people at HCYP that have been around for a long time," Schwartz said.

Ellicott City resident Ed Piotrowski ran the tournament in 2003 and has been involved in some form for four years. This year, Piotrowski is coaching an HCYP team in the under-12 division.

"It's a nice tournament for the local area," Piotrowski said. "The camaraderie is [good, and] not only basically ... within your own team and your program but also with other teams. That's the neat thing."

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