The following notice arrived via email: “A Flapjack Fundraiser to benefit the Orchard Park Starz 12U Softball Team is being held on Sunday, November 4th from 8am-10am at the Applebee’s Restaurant located at Southgate Plaza on Union Road, West Seneca. Pre-sale tickets are available for just $5.00 each.”
I can’t decide whether to be appalled that the community is being asked to underwrite softball played by 12-year-olds or jealous that I didn’t think of it when my daughters were playing.
The Starz is a travel team. If you’re not sure what that means, sports has gone from games being played by children with no help from adults, to organized leagues in which the kids get uniforms and play against other kids in a league operated by adults who also coach, to “travel leagues” in which a smaller group of kids from the “house league” plays against kids from other house leagues. The more years they play, the more likely they will be asked to play travel. It’s more competitive and always more expensive.
Rachel Wozniak, whose oldest daughter, Lily, plays for the Starz, was the contact person for the team’s pancake breakfast. She said that the team has done all of the conventional fundraisers but that she and the other parents also have tried to be a little more creative, such as last year’s comedy night that raised $800 for the 12U Starz. The breakfast next week is an extension of that approach.
I asked her what it would cost to have her daughter play travel softball if there were no fundraisers. She estimated about $1,000, which sounds right. Even with them, parents routinely shell out $500 or more to have their offspring play games in travel leagues. The more equipment that’s involved, the more those costs go up.
“You start looking at it, and – holy cow – that’s a lot of your family funds to play softball,” she said, adding: “I’ve kind of laid down the guilt a little bit on my daughter when she asks to go out on Friday and Saturday nights: ‘You know, I’m already contributing $1,000 for your softball. Don’t ask for another $15 to $20 to go out to a movie.’ ”
You can argue whether any of this is necessary and whether by encouraging travel leagues or taking part in fundraisers we are fostering the problem of parents trying to realize unachieved athletic dreams through their children. You can also wonder whether we are creating a world in which, increasingly, only the affluent can afford to have their children play organized sports.
Here’s another way to look at it: If the kids want to do something because it’s fun – whether sports, or music or another diversion – if you have enough perspective to remind them periodically that they are not going to do it professionally, and if they are willing to raise money to help offset your costs, why not do it?
They aren’t going to be kids forever. A day is going to come when either they don’t want to play anymore or they can’t because they have other adult commitments.
And then you may look back on those times when you took a day off from work to watch them play or those times when you stood outside Walmart selling $1 candy bars when you had 50 other things you should have been doing, and – believe it or not – you’ll miss them.
It’s like Carly Simon once said: “These are the good old days.”
Then again, she probably didn’t write that while selling candy bars.