Sports should be about kids having a good time
The one positive from the Indians’ lost weekend was that I was distracted from watching the majority of it.
I never intended to be a sportswriter. I am a sports fan who stumbled into the profession. I was attending three or four high school sporting events every week anyway so I figured I might as well get paid to go. Can't complain about being paid to watch sports.
But I experienced two firsts this week. I spent two days at the Westfield Junior PGA Championship which was held at the Westfield Group Country Club. I also checked out Jeff Richie's Money$worth boxing event at the soon to be renamed Gund on Friday.
I am a boxing fan. But normally I am relegated to HBO and pay per view. Media has its privileges but sitting ringside to watch warriors like Frankie Randall and Craig Weber is an awesome experience. I got to talk to a boxing icon in Floyd Patterson Senior and was able to just wander into the dressing rooms of future stars Ron Johnson and Devon Vargas while they are still accessible. Richie put on a great show and is hoping he can continue to bring good fights to the city.
As for golf, I only watch the final rounds of majors and can only hit a 7 iron. Seriously, every shot from the fringe of the green to 180 yards. It never really gets old to say to my playing partner, what do you think I should hit? I ponder and then she will say "How about the seven?" So basically my golfing is limited to Mastick in the Metroparks.
Westfield is a beautiful course. I felt like I was in a foreign land but everyone was so nice. The event is PGA's championship for golfers under the age of 17 and Westfield plays an excellent host. The event is 30 years old and has spent the last five at Westfield. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard and Jim Furyk all have competed and lost in the tournament. David Toms is one former winner who has won the real PGA Championship.
It was a great time but I felt strange following around a ten year old girl. Alexis Thompson played her way into the tournament by shooting back to back 69s at her qualifier in Florida. She played the first round with two soon to be college freshmen. Alexis could hit farther than both of them but it posed the question of how young is too young?
There has been a lot of talk about the 15 year old Michelle Wie competing in men's events. Alexis is FIVE years younger. Do you want your ten year old on television? Her name and accomplishments have appeared in USA TODAY and across the nation. Her talent says she can play but should she? That is her family's decision and they know her best. But while the older teens hung out after a round making friends, Alexis was alone on the putting range still steaming about her round of 83. Earlier this year, she attempted to make the US Women's Open. I read an article where one player believed there should be an age limit because Alexis cried and pouted for most of the first nine holes. A bad sport, maybe, but she is TEN and that is a lot pressure competing against adult women.
If it is what she wants then maybe she should be allowed to try but as her opening round playing partner Jessica Hamilton told me, "I had no interest in golf when I was ten. I wanted to be at the pool swimming every day. I can't believe she is so young and so good. She hits the ball a mile. It is crazy."
Sports are great but as a nation we are turning sports into big business at a younger and younger age. Now there are travel leagues in every sport where middle school and high school kids spend their summers traveling all over the country for tournaments. That is why the playgrounds always seem so empty. The kids are all in transit to the next event.
I missed the Rocky River Recreation's 3 on 3 tournament this weekend but the event is a throw-back. There is no adult coaching allowed. The kids captain their own teams and they just play. I interviewed a few kids for a story that appeared in last week's tab and I couldn't believe how unique they felt that was. I got comments like "It is more fun because no one yells when you make a mistake."
The world is changing but it wasn't that long ago that I was a kid. My neighborhood, destroyed by the formation of I-90, lacked kids but we still played wiffleball and basketball all day long. I played little league and I remember one year when the only three games we won were when our jerk coach was in the hospital for surgery. He took the fun out of it. Because I was short and fast, he would not let me swing away. I had to crouch low and try to get walks. I swung away once, drilled a double, and got benched. In grade school, my basketball team went to states but I was the seventh player for a coach who believed in a six man rotation. The experiences made me a better coach but most of my sport playing was pick-up games without adults.
Do kids today ever play sports without adults? Is everything a league? Leagues often mean striving for titles. Often the bench players are there to just watch. That’s OK in the pros but little league? Championships are great but sports are more than trying to just win.
Westfield does a good job of that. I talked to several kids this week who felt that their week at Westfield was like camp. They golfed during the day and hung out with their peers at night.
The girls’ champ, Stephanie Kono, attends the same high school as Michelle Wie where she is one grade behind her. Wie has proved she can play with the men but she isn't winning. Kono actually beat Wie in the 2004 US Women’s Public links tournament qualifier. This past week Wie was also in Ohio competing against men in match play trying to win her way to the Masters. While Wie is using her talent to chase "her" dream. Kono is developing her own talent. She is winning prestigious youth tournaments and has a bright future in the sport. What a contrast. Wie holed up and isolated in a hotel trying to prove she belongs with the men. While Stephanie hung out with kids her own age every night forming relationships and friendships. After her win she clutched her trophy and talked about where she would put it in her living room.
She is still kid. Able to compete at a high national level but still mindful of her childhood. Her win did not have her looking to move up a notch. She knows where she belongs for now. The tour will still be there in a few years.
"I really enjoy coming here every year," Kono said. "This was my second year and I look forward to coming back the next two years. It is a nice golf course that is really fun to play but it is so much fun every night. We just all hang out until curfew time."
And hanging out is what being a kid is all about.