Friday, March 20, 2009

Kids sports at 2. What would tee-ball pioneer say?

Eulogies aren't a specialty in this space, but I did want to note the passing this month of a youth sports icon: Jerry Sacharski, who, depending on your point of view, popularized Tee-Ball or invented it.

Sacharski, who died at 93, was a high school teacher and youth sports coach in Albion, Michigan in the 1950s when he had his moment of inspiration. "We had all these little guys coming out for summer baseball five years ago," Sacharski told United Press International in 1960, "and just couldn't send them home."

This from the Los Angeles Times obituary:

"After fashioning his first batting tee out of metal piping, pieces of rubber and part of a garden hose, Sacharski invited youngsters between ages 6 and 8 to come out for a suddenly pitchless pastime.

On June 25, 1956, what Sacharski initially called "pee-wee baseball" debuted in a league game at a park in Albion, about 100 miles west of Detroit.

"You won't find an earlier date for a tee being used in a game," said Frank Passic, an Albion historian.

Sacharski resisted being called the inventor of the game and would only allow that he founded what "may have been the first organized tee-ball league."

Let's not overlook the true impact of this man, i.e. forever lowering the age at which children get started in organized sports. In the pre-tee ball era, it was unheard of for a league to admit kids under eight years old. Our Little League, I remember, started at the ripe old age of 9 in the 1960s - eight if your parent agreed to coach, as mine did.

Now, the age of entry is typically four or five, and one national sports program, Lil Kickers, starts kids before they turn two. I would have loved to have heard Mr. Sacharski's reaction to that.

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