We have to start somewhere
On Friday, Jacob Conley wrote a column saying he felt that Rutherford County should combine its Little League programs for a multitude of reasons.
Jacob talked about how the combination of leagues holds potential for better competition at the youth level and could even bring state and national attention to Rutherford County.
I feel that a change could have a lasting impact not only at the youth level, but every level of Rutherford County athletics. Hear me out, imagine if Chase, Forest City and Rutherfordton let go of township pride and merged all county youths into one league.
Not only would the kids see more competition, but the all-star teams that have the potential to compete at the state and national level would truly be the best the county has to offer. Granted, with three separate leagues the county has three chances to land a state qualifier, but once that team moves on they hardly stand a chance against teams from larger leagues.
If we had just one, combined all-star team, imagine how good they could be and how far they could go. Yes, there will be just one-third of the usual amount of all-stars, but that team could truly represent the entire county as opposed to their faction.
In a recent conversation I had with a parent who has multiple kids playing at high levels in their particular age group described the problem perfectly. They said the county has the talent to truly be something, but the kids have too many choices. Rutherford County talent is spread too thin. In my opinion, the issue follows the county all the way to Legion baseball.
Throughout the season I saw countless baseball stars on local high schools that could have comprised a powerful Post 423 Legion team. I could sit here, look at the high school rosters and put together a Rutherford County fantasy team that could compete with nearly anyone and have plenty left over for a competitive second team. Instead the Post 423 Legion team has only 15 names on it, and honestly, a handful of them wouldn't make my fantasy team.
These kids with the talent to turn 423 from an Area IV bottom-dweller choose either not to play or to play elsewhere, usually a travel team. Some don't play because other players from their school that they've played with from Little League aren't playing. Parents say their child won't get the attention they can get on a travel circuit. And they're probably right. The senior team played a 16-game regular season and lost in the opening round of the state playoffs. If I was a college scout, I would probably skip over that program too for other are teams that play 40+ games every summer.
Now let's back up a few steps and return to the Little League thought. Now, hypothetically, the three leagues combine. The 11/12 all-stars form a team that wins the district, wins state and maybe even moves on to the Little League World Series with a chance to play on national television … That team forms a bond regardless of what school they go to or what part of the county their mail gets delivered to … That team sticks together and plays Junior Legion ball in a couple years … That team wins another state title.
Now this group is making quite a name for itself. After a couple more seasons, this same team that has formed a bond and created a reputation since age 11 decides to keep it going and plays Post 423 baseball together instead of splitting up to play travel ball hours away.
At that point we can have a county-wide product that we can all be proud of. Kids will still go to their respective high schools and bolster those programs, that won’t change, but when school isn’t in season, what’s the point in keeping our talents separated.
This whole notion may never come to fruition, and if it does it may take several years. But for the sake of conversation, I think the benefits of combining leagues, players and resources far outweigh those of not.