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By Staff | Mar 13, 2019

Every time spring sports season rolls around, I start reminiscing about athletics back in the 60s and 70s. Everything seems different now, but I’m not so sure it is. Recently, I found a copy of my application to play in the Cleveland, Ohio, Middle West Side industrial little league baseball program. To apply, your dad had to work in a local foundry, steel mill, or supporting industry between West 39th Street and West 65th Street. No exceptions were allowed. All applications had to be signed by the father only.

According to the rules, all games would be played on West Side Cathedral’s three ball fields. Transportation to and from the games was the responsibility of all participants, and proof of employment of the father was required. There was no mention of women working and no mention of any other types of employment for qualifying a child. Only six kids per family were allowed.

There were no practices allowed on Wednesday or Sunday. All games would start promptly at 7 p.m. and end no later than 11 p.m. The season began on May 1, and games would begin at the end of the school year, which was noted as no later than May 15, and continue to August 1.

My oldest brother and I played on the 52nd Street Bouncers. We had a roster of 15 kids, ranging in age from seven to 13. Once you passed the age limit you were placed in a draft that only allowed three per family, all of whom would be placed on the same team in a different league. The draft was conducted at the main office by the plant manager or designated supervisor from each participating factory. The Cleveland parks and recreation department also had leagues, but you could only participate in the workers league or the parks league. Neither league competed against each other, and no recruiting was permitted.

Competition was very intense; part of the rules for the workers league expressly prohibited communication between coaches and dads. Again, mothers weren’t mentioned, and grandparents or guardians were unheard of. Your application stated you were under the direction and supervision of your coach, (who, by the way, was paid a wage from a pool of money between the participating employers) who decided who played what position, and – through skill and knowledge of the game – gave his team the best chance of winning.

Complaining and grievances by dads were taken to the league employers, who made final and binding decisions. Any further controversy was cause for your dismissal from the team. There were very strict rules, and all were required to abide by them. Parents (moms included) were encouraged to attend games and to cheer in favorable ways for their children’s team. Grandpa mentioned a parent who was expelled from attending because he questioned a coach decision.

Every Cathedral playground was fenced in, and one penny admission was charged for attendants with non-participating children. There were no concession stands, but there were water fountains available. Games were only played between the teams located between 39th Street and 65th Street. Switching teams was prohibited. Children whose parents moved out of their area became ineligible for the remainder of the season and the following year.

I was seven and brother Bob was 10. He was a very good baseball player and made the first team as a second baseman. I sat the bench the entire season, never once getting playing time (more like a water boy), but still good enough to be a member. Bob hit a home run against the 61st Street Brown Bags, and they set off fireworks. It was a Fourth of July game, and both teams were in the race for the league championship. My grandmother kept a big book full of game notes and some pictures, which were rare in those days.

We lost the league championship and so did the Brown Baggers, as the Beach Side Bums from 41st Street came on and won it all. Bob and I cried and decided we would work harder for next season. That never happened as we were uprooted from our hometown and brought to the little village of Paden City, W.Va. Those precious memories still exist, and I often wonder what would have happened if we had never left.

My love for sports started in that big city of Cleveland, Ohio, and has continued to this day. Although the way youth sports have changed, the thrill of it all remains. I have watched many kids throughout the years as they grew from t-ballers to high school and even college stars. I have watched as parents, dads, moms, and grandparents supported their children down to the last point. It’s an amazing adventure that everyone should experience. The problem is, it all ends to soon.

I was happy this year to watch some of the local athletes as they played their hearts out for their schools. I watched kids who have been playing high school ball since their freshman year play their last basketball game. Others will return to give it another round; it’s a cycle that doesn’t end. Every year new players rise up to take the stage. That is what makes it great, and from there, they go on to become the leaders in life. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to watch your own kids and friends as they compete against your co-workers’ kids, and even your neighbors.

If we could go back in time, we would see much change in how things should be run. Coaches would be in control; athletes and dads would respect the knowledge of the coaches, and coaches would handle themselves in a way to earn that respect. I hope this doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings for that is not the intent. The intent is to show there should be reasonable rules and regulations for all to abide by, and those who want to question authority should do so in a proper manner.

Just as athletes and parents should be held accountable for their actions, coaches should also be held accountable for how they manage a team. I honestly believe we have some very good coaches locally; I don’t feel they will always be winners, because the playing field is stacked against them. However, they should take the hand they’re dealt and do the absolute best to make their team the best it can possibly be. And that’s all anyone can ask. Good luck to all area coaches and athletes as we start another year of spring sports. eparsons@tylerstarnews.com