Killeen Parks and Recreation made the transition this year to Little League Baseball. The change came after 20-plus years of affiliation with Texas Teen Age Baseball. The change was definitely a learning experience for the players, parents, and staff.
The change was one that required a lot of education for the administrators, and continued all the way to the players.
As administrators, we learned that getting an all-star team certified to compete in Little League is tougher than getting a kid cleared to play in the UIL. Birth certificates (originals only), three proofs of residency on a specific calendar date, signed affidavits by parents and detailed maps locating the residence of every player are just a few of the items that we stumbled over during the course of getting three teams prepared to compete in all-star competition.
We also learned kids from other communities start practicing and playing for the dream of making a trip to Williamsport, Pa. at the young age of 5. These children often embark on this path with a group of 12 to 15 teammates. The groups often remain intact for the entire journey, with a few modifications here and there along the way. Stories of parents signing contracts to commit to the endeavor circulated through the ballparks.
The golden egg of Little League is not local league championships; the prize is the all-star team that is formed to pursue that illustrious trip to Williamsport. The competition is fierce enough to entice select, travel-ball players to return to compete for their local community. Without a doubt, the players that our teams encountered in the first round of all-star competition were as good as any players I have seen in my 13 years of watching youth baseball in the 11-12 year old division. A time span which included players such as David Kipp, Korey Wacker, Ryan Ballentine, J.T. Gilmore, Justin Dingman, Ryan Bates, Emery Atkinson and Cal Sommerville to name a few.
Our 9-10- and 11-12-year-old all-star teams did not win a game in their respective district tournaments. Not because our teams are not skilled; our teams are not trained in the manner in which the competition was trained. The opposing teams not only commit to baseball for a 90-day time span that encompasses the regular season, the victorious teams also commit time and resources well in advance of the first scheduled practice. Additionally, they commit time and resources after the conclusion of the season. All of this is done with the desire and passion to make that vaunted journey to Williamsport.
Our 13-14-year-old team swept through the district and sectional tournaments, but were swept (0-2) in the state tournament two weeks ago in San Angelo.
As administrators we are taking a comprehensive look at how we can better train our baseball players to be successful in our second year of Little League competition. Our teams will require training on top of the regularly scheduled team practices to prepare them for the amplified competition. Access to facilities will need to be increased. Personal instruction for pitchers and hitters is needed to prepare every ballplayer to be competitive, and push for a spot on the all-star team.
The goal is to create an atmosphere of elite ballplayers able to compete at the highest level. Select, travel team coaches need to return to accept the challenge of honing the skills of our local players, and then taking the cream of the crop and embarking on a journey, which hopefully will culminate with a trip to the northeast.
After all, the goal is the golden egg located in Williamsport.
Brett Williams is the director of the Killeen Parks and Recreation Department