Play ball!

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It is no secret I am an avid sports fan. In most instances, I have held a personal preference for collegiate and amateur sports over professional. I have a deep love for the game of baseball and am a devoted Chicago Cubs fan. 

There have been many great movies made featuring the game of baseball. One I hold dear, is the 1989 classic, Field of Dreams. Actor Kevin Costner stars as an Iowa farmer who builds a baseball field in his cornfield that attracts the ghosts of baseball legends. He does this to reconnect with his late father. He also fears dying without achieving anything. The movie’s most famous line is, “If you build it, they will come.”

Over the last year, I have watched parents in our local community become involved in building up the local parks and recreation program in Elkins, Ark., This started with concerned parents speaking up in a city council meeting last spring. At the time, there was some transition of staffing at the city sports complex and there were many challenges with the organization of youth baseball, softball and the upkeep of the fields. The youth sports program was struggling.

I watched as one of our friends bravely ran for city council to position herself to tackle problems in a way to create sports opportunities for all children in this small community. She was a woman of action. She became involved in committees to set up funding to pay for necessary repairs and future maintenance. She reached out to experts to research grant and fundraising opportunities. She won her election and has continued to be a person of action.

Many members of our community invested time, money and labor. As the spring baseball and softball season approaches, the fields are ready. There is a team of people working to organize the program. Team rosters have been prepared and there are many children participating this season. The engaged people who have persevered in making this program successful have worked tirelessly to make sure that there are staff, funding and equipment. The one thing that has been difficult has been making sure each team has a volunteer coach. At the time of this writing, the parks and recreation team were still looking for just one more volunteer.

I was not a star athlete. However, I believe I learned a lot from playing on teams. I knew that to get better at a skill, I had to practice. I learned from coaches that if I was early, I was on time and that if I was on time, I was late. This sticks with me still today. I learned the importance of good sportsmanship – win graciously, lose with dignity. I learned to be coachable and take criticism for my own good. I loved playing softball and had fun in my small-town recreational league. Today, I get to enjoy watching our youngest son play on his 11U baseball team.

Having youth sports available in our farm communities is not just about producing college and professional athletes – the odds of that are low. These youth programs provide children with organized fun to learn valuable life skills from volunteer adults. I hope and pray someone steps up and fills that last volunteer coaching spot here in Elkins. The experience of playing for an engaged and caring coach can build young men and women of great character for our community’s future.

I would like to publicly congratulate the families who got involved in re-building the youth sports program here in Elkins. They have achieved something that will last a long time in our community. They have proven that – if you build it, they will come, neighbors.

Jody Harris is a freelance communications specialist, gardener, ranch wife and mother of four. She and her family raise Angus beef cattle and other critters on their northwest Arkansas ranch. She is a graduate of Missouri State University. To contact Jody, go to ozarksfn.com and click on ‘Contact Us.’

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