We all have had those, “It makes so much sense, why didn’t I think of that first?” moments. Lee Ice, youth sports director for the city of Lawrence, had one when he was an assistant baseball coach for Kansas University, scouting talent at a tournament in 1988 in Pueblo, Colo.
A Little League baseball game behind the stadium from which Ice scouted caught his attention. It still hasn’t let go.
“I was watching an 8-year-old game, Twins vs. White Sox, the uniforms matching the big league uniforms,” Ice said Thursday. “The bleachers were beyond the center-field fence.”
Take a moment to think about a Little League game at some point in your life in which you were made to feel extremely uncomfortable because a father was dressing down an umpire, or lighting up his son for throwing to the wrong base.
“They could yell and scream all they wanted and the kids weren’t going to hear them,” Ice said. “Grandma can yell, ‘Keep your elbow up,’ and the kid’s not going to hear her. He’ll only hear his coach.”
You can bet that in heaven, all the Little League stands are stationed beyond the center-field fence. The game belongs to the children, taught by the volunteer coaches. Angels play harps. Children put their hands on their knees, spit a lot and voice corny sayings.
Some are convinced Little League was invented to keep parents off the streets, but Lawrence, Ice insists, is better than most communities when it comes to mom and dad not embarrassing their children with obnoxious behavior.
Ice has parents sign what a amounts to a contract known as, “Our Promise to Kids,” put out by the Kansas Recreation and Parks Association. The message can be summed up with words such as “Don’t be a jerk,” but, of course, Ice uses less harsh language.
“There are four jobs to do in youth sports, from T-ball, all the way to college, really,” Ice said. “Players play. Coaches coach. Umpires or officials officiate. Spectators spectate. The toughest part is to be a positive influence as a spectator. Trust the coach. Let the umpires umpire and let the kids have fun.”
The best thing a parent can tell the mirror before leaving for the game is a three-word phrase made popular last decade: “Know your role.”
“Problems come when somebody crosses the line and tries to do somebody else’s job,” Ice said.
His is not an easy job. He must assign umpires for 600 youth baseball and softball games. He received only 15 applications. He must recruit the rest. Typically, he needs 50-to-60 umpires to cover the 95-to-110 games a week. So remember this: Next time you want to do somebody else’s job at a Little League game, don’t do it, and be thankful you don’t have to do Ice’s job.