By Nita Johnson
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — March Madness is long gone and the University of Kentucky’s successes for 2013-2014 are now another part of history. Despite some setbacks over the season, the young men’s team pulled together in the heat of tournament time and took fans on a nail-biting run to the NCAA Championship game. Aside from the disappointing loss in the final game, these freshman proved that determination and luck can surpass the predictions of even the most seasoned sports officials and “experts” in their field.
The late - but more than welcome - warmer temperatures now lure us from the TV set to the great outdoors where the spring sports programs are gearing up. The parking lots at the North Laurel Little League and Optimist Club are full of parents’ and grandparents’ vehicles gathering to bask in the joy of spring sports. The greening fields are dotted with children awaiting the thrill of competition and sportsmanship, while the yells from family and friends cheering on the teams echo in the country air.
For me, spring signals soccer games at the Optimist Club several times a week. Although focused primarily on Hannah’s games, I sometimes wander over to the smaller fields where children as young as 4 years old put on their gear and learn the basics of this sport whose popularity continues to grow and grow.
The teams comprised of 10 and older symbolize the skills of the game itself, offering different plays and techniques. The sighs of defeat and screams of triumph travel from the larger fields onto the accompanying playing areas during regular game times, although the fields and stands of the younger teams are often vacated as the weeknight contests for the older groups tarry on into the dark evening hours.
The younger groups, however, offer live entertainment of a different sort as the younger children chase after a ball that is nearly as tall as their legs are long. It is the spirit of competition and the basic game that prevails on these white-lined fields rather than the technicalities of whether a defensive player crosses into the offensive lines or offers up a “high kick.”
Parents and grandparents learn their own rules early on, making a blanket and umbrella standard equipment in the family vehicle. Just one experience with the dew-drenched bleachers for early morning games and the cool evening wind whipping across the flattened fields justify the blanket as a year-round staple of the sporting family. The umbrellas and raincoats join the list of necessities, ranking at the top of the “have-to” list with cleats, shin guards and Gatorade.
Although basketball will undoubtedly remain the state’s primary sporting attraction and fan base, every sport has its own role in teaching discipline and respect. Each one has a spot in the physical and emotional development of a child. While not every child is athletically-oriented, having the opportunity to participate builds self-esteem, self-confidence and physical endurance.
So while we applaud our children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, friends and family, let’s save a couple of hand slaps for the “movers and shakers” who established these programs and for those who continue and expand them to provide positive character-building activities for the children and youth of the community - as well as giving us “older folks” some activity as we cheer the children on.
See ya at the field!