Know your role in youth sports

Lee Ice, youth sports supervisor for Lawrence Parks and Recreation, demonstrates the art of making a call to a new class of umpires.

Lee Ice, youth sports supervisor for Lawrence Parks and Recreation, demonstrates the art of making a call to a new class of umpires.

June 1, 2012


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.


Hooligan_016 6 years ago

Some of those 30-something old parents are real tough berating a 15 year old trying to ump a game.

Had to deal with my share of jerks while reffing YMCA sports. Was only getting paid minimum wage, but enjoyed working outside with my friends and the kids.

boxers_or_briefs 6 years ago

What gets me is that some coaches treat games at win at all costs. Tell me a coach who will know his win-loss record in 5 years and I'll be shocked. Come on coaches, bat the entire lineup regardless. Would you like not playing if it was you. Kids aren't going to develop sitting on the bench as 12-14 year olds. They just want to play. Winning is nice but at what cost? It's only like two extra batters with a 11 man roster anyways.

ljpppp 6 years ago

As a coach in Lawrence for several years now, most of my teams have had bad records, as we've taken kids to give them opportunity to play competitive baseball. We always had 6 that should have played in the non- competitive league that park and rec offers, but wanted to try this league, so we took them, knowing full well their skill set wasn't up to par with others in the league. We actually coached, not managed kids, and now we are better, so we play to win. I owe it to my son and others on the team that have put in the time to do that. At 14U, if we don't, we get pounded and play 3 innings, not 6 or 7. Parents can't do the math. Their kids still play more, because we bat around at least 4 times. In years we stunk, sometimes we didn't get through our lineup batting everyone, because we were run ruled.

boxers_or_briefs 6 years ago

Are all kids who have "put in the time" playing every inning of every game on your team or just a chosen few? Or have some of these kids quit due to lack of playing and hitting equally? Kids that don't play as much as others don't forget. Their parents have paid and sacrificed their time as much as everyone else too. Do kids that play less have parents who pay less?

So what happens if you're run ruled and only play nine this year? What's changed?

I'm only asking these questions because my oldest boy quit at 13 because of this and is now disinterested in sports altogether. He was a huge baseball fan before this happened too.

ljpppp 6 years ago

Just because a kid has put in time doesn't mean he's earned playing time, which is something certain parents never "get". My son has missed, I believe, 2 practices in 6 years.(not counting a broken collarbone). Others who think they put in equal time haven't. As far as your scenario on batting nine, I hope I never know, as it hasn't happened. Again, there is a league for those who want exact equal time, rotate positions every inning. And thank God there is, because I have two girls who play in it and just love the game. Money has nothing to do with playing time, and if anyone thinks it does, they are clueless. I'm sorry your son quit, but there were other options than that.

boxers_or_briefs 6 years ago

Yikes! Looks like I struck a nerve. These are 13 year old not major leaguers. Sounds like your son is being forced in it because you're the coach. And I was a head coach for a time in DCABA and played everyone regardless and won more than half doing so.

Mary Darst 6 years ago

They should put the bleachers out in field for school sports too. Most parents think their child is the next #1 draft pick. Little league football is one of the worst I have ever seen. Good article.

3up3down 6 years ago

I have umpired baseball from small college down to U8 in the Lawrence and Kansas City area. I have had many conversations with Lee about what is contained in this article. It's too bad when the parents display poor sportsmanship and provide a lousy role model for their kids. Coaches sometimes make bad decisions, umpires the same. They are human, so get over it mom and dad. IT'S A GAME!!
Thank you Lee for all you have been doing for youth sports in Lawrence. Probably one of the best things you did was put up those mats behind home plate at Holcom. Got the armchair umpire dads out from behind the plate. Bravo!!!!

MISTERTibbs 6 years ago

I agree with you on the work Lee does, and I appreciate most of the folks who make the effort to coach and officiate games.

I just wish Lee wouldn't have such a blind spot for those few, and I mean very few, officials that seem to think the game is about them and not the kids. One in particular comes to mind since his initials are the same as the German state police that he seems to emulate.

JTyler 6 years ago

The funny thing is, everyone knows who you're talking about! Umpires should be non combative, not look for an argument. I think 99% of them get this and do great. Well said, MISTERTibbs!

Take_a_letter_Maria 6 years ago

Yep, the worst I saw was good old Steve toss both coaches during a basketball game. The head coach was trying to get his assistant to calm down and Steve kept egging the coach on. He tossed the head coach because he "couldn't" control the assistant.

I wonder if his kid is still calling games too. When I was coaching my players would ask me to tell him to shut up because he would always talk to them when they were at bat.

Julie Craig 6 years ago

Good article and SO true. In my experience as a coach, kids don't like the pressure of going up to the plate and failing time after time. Some kids are good at baseball and some are not, no matter how much they practice. Most of the kids who are not getting it by the time they are twelve, quit on their own. Baseball is not for everyone. Good parents let their kids move on to something else and not badger the coach about how it's not fair.

ljpppp 6 years ago

My son lives for baseball, so you're uninformed, B or B. Ask anyone that knows, as it sounds like 3up3down and puzzler do, and they will tell you parents are the ones who are almost always the problem, not the coaches. Not the majors? Tell that to the parents who know nothing about baseball and expect you to make their kid the next superstar, despite their limitations. And it's weird, but only the lesser players parents complain, as a rule. Just coincidence, I'm sure!

boxers_or_briefs 6 years ago

I'm guessing that youve run off quite a few players and families over the years. Maybe even half?

luvmyson 6 years ago

Yes, he has. It's his way or the highway.

zip2play 6 years ago

Indeed ljp has run of fhis fair share of players!

boxers_or_briefs 6 years ago

I love this column Mr. Keegan. It has brought out the parents, myself included, that you've written about.

luvmyson 6 years ago

Yes he has. He is the problem!

JTyler 6 years ago

Finally, I have my own account and don't have to use my girlfriends, ljpppp. You know who I am by my name, I don't hide behind made up names like a coward. Actually, the opposite is true. Because I have taken players and given them a chance, despite the fact they should be in the other league, we have become a "minor league" for the so called "superteams". I teach a so so ballplayer how to play, he becomes good, and the good teams take him. If we were to field a team with those players, we would never lose. I would say I've also "run off some players", as you can't please everyone. If a kid doesn't practice, he won't play much. Period. No different than any other coach that has a clue. I've also taken other teams castoffs, as so to give them a chance, despite being made fun of by the coaches that cut them. Some would rather play more and their kids get beat up, losing every game. They are called losers. In the real world, where will that get them? and quitting? people who do that are called quitters.

Marty_McFly 6 years ago

Well said JTyler. Honesty is best.

Run4More 6 years ago

Can't imagine what his girlfriend thinks, he just called her a coward for having an anonymous name! Good job coach!

JTyler 6 years ago

Good call, but everyone knows who it is. Good job, Run4More!

Nikki May 6 years ago

I had to share this article on facebook. I have coached softball and now baseball. I love the kids, that's why we go out there. Every year, we have parents that will never be happy, but don't want to step up and coach (or truthfully don't know what they are talking about).

With so few officials, we also get a few that aren't really ready.

As for DCABA, even in DCABA there is a rule that they have to play. The rule clearly says every player on the team who is present must appear in the field at least two innings and bat at least once in a regulation length game. However, if you get run ruled or in the case of some younger games, just run out of time, some kids won't make it on the field. However, I have seen blatant violations of rules (one case a kid subbed in and pitched to one batter and was pulled. According to rules, he HAS to get a complete inning so should be sent to another spot if he didn't pitch as well.) I know on our team, my son and one other boy didn't get to bat (both made it to the field) last game. Where they in the line up? Of course. Guess what, someone has to bat first, someone last. My kid has earned his spot on the bottom- he doesn't care, he'd take a pinch hitter if he could (my daughter batted in the 4-6 slots, every kid is different, and I promise every coach isn't putting their child first).

Basically, the point is, I agree with Lee. And, if I could I would want the stands moved and then the dugouts sunk down so people would leave the kids alone. Between siblings, parents, some cute boy, whatever, the kids can't focus. It's a million times worse when a sibling or parent comes over to yell at a kid. We do tell them to leave, but it's chain link fence.

onceajhawkalwaysajhawk 6 years ago

I've known Lee Ice for 45 years and he comes from a family that has been a asset to the community in youth sports in Lawrence. He understands that there is a wide range of talent at any age and the important point is for ALL kids to enjoy the sport and continue to learn at each child's curve. His experience as a pro athelete and facilatator is unique and very valuable to Lawrence's youth. I personally coached little league sports for 20 years and stopped because of the increasing pressure that parents brought to "winning" versus letting their child enjoy the benefits of being involved in a team sport. I was fortunate to be coached by Bill Scott in little league baseball and Jim Sanders in football in the 60's. and 70's. They both believed that having fun was priority. The cream will always come to the top in due time, but until then EVERY child should have the opportunity to participate with their piers in team sports. Too many parents try to live through their children rather than enjoy the moments of watching their child grow through the team enviorment of sports. Thank you Leo for "keeping your eye on the ball"!

MISTERTibbs 6 years ago

I was out enjoying the game last night at YSC and happy to see that those around me seemed to be taking this story to heart. Then suddenly I hear from a field behind me in a loud voice "That's it coach! You are outta here." Wonder if the coach really had a point or was thinking he was coaching the Royals instead of a 10 year-old team. Either way, not a good example to set for the kids. During 30 years of coaching youth sports I always found it important to know where that line was with the officials, and glad that I never crossed it.

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