CATEGORY: LCN Bobby’s Lee County articlesPEPPER
By Bobby Pepper
When he was growing up in Lee County, Tony Harrelson spent his summers playing baseball in church-sponsored leagues.
Harrelson, a Guntown resident, said he will always remember how much it meant to him and his friends to have coaches who found time after a busy day at work to teach them the game.
“The league I played in, there were a lot of men that I see still today who had a big influence on me when I was 9, 10, 11, 12 years old,” Harrelson said. “They worked all day at Penn Tire and at Jesco, and when they got off work they came over and practiced with us.”
Nowadays, Harrelson is one of the adult end of the same scenario. After work, he rushes to the ball park in Saltillo to lead his age 9-10 team through practice or a game.
“I look forward to it every year,” he said.
There are many adults in Lee County like Harrelson who give their time to help our youth as a sports volunteer. Many people work together to keep the youth leagues season going from start to finish.
And no matter where they live in Lee County, the youth sports volunteers say they get involved for one important reason: the kids.
Nita Dickey, who is active in the Saltillo program along with her husband, Terry, and three softball-playing daughters, said volunteers are important to the kids.
“When you let the children know they care enough about them to get involved in sports,” she said, “that’s letting them know, ‘Hey, somebody cares about you.’ “
Many people needed
There are plenty of opportunities for a person to serve as a youth sports volunteer in Lee County.
You can serve as a head coach or assistant coach for a team, or work during a game as an umpire, referee or scorekeeper. If there’s a road trip, someone is needed to carry players to the game site.
There are always hamburgers to cook and soft drinks to serve in the concession stand, or someone can bring snacks for the team. Others take care of the playing fields by cutting the grass, putting down the chalk lines or setting up equipment.
On the non-playing side of youth sports, you can help out as a league organizer handling registration or serve on an advisory committee.
Volunteers are called up to work in sports like baseball, softball, soccer, football, basketball, volleyball, tennis and bowling. And there are just as many groups who need volunteers to work with kids: Tupelo Department of Parks and Recreation, Lee County and town-organized leagues, church leagues, or through organizations such as the Salvation Army, the Special Olympics, American Legion and the Tupelo Housing Authority.
Anytime you see a youth sports volunteer, there’s a good chance his or her child is on one of the teams playing.
“Without them (volunteers and parents), you don’t have a program,” said Patricia Gentry, who has served as a scorekeeper for Tupelo and Lee County softball teams. “The parent involvement is so important because it’s the parents who are coaching, assistant coaching, getting the youths to the activity.”
One example where volunteer involvement is vital is the Tupelo Park and Rec department, which runs one of the largest youth programs in the state. The department has youth sports parents associations and league representatives who work closely with Park and Rec officials.
“They help us so much in fundraisers, day-to-day activities and special events,” said Ramie Ford, Park and Rec director. “It would be impossible to do the things Tupelo is able to do in these youth programs without the support of these booster clubs.”
Steve Taylor of Tupelo has been involved in youth sports coaching since 1974. Taylor, who coached some of his son’s teams in baseball, is serving as president of the Tupelo Youth Baseball Association and is coaching his daughter’s softball team.
Taylor knows the schedule of a youth volunteer can be time consuming in the spring and summer when there are baseball and softball games going on at the same time.
“I’m liable to go straight from work into practice or to the game,” he said. “Sometimes my wife would be off with my daughter and I would be off with my son, or vice versa. We seemed to just meet in the road somewhere.”
Taylor, however, doesn’t mind the busy schedule if it brings him closer to his children.
“We look forward to this time of the year because it’s a good time for the family to be together, even though we’re rushed,” he said.
Harrelson said the work of a youth sports volunteer can turn into a long evening as well.
“One night a week we’ll play at 6:30, and then the next night we’ll play at 8,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t get out of there until 9:30, maybe 10 o’clock. Most of the time, even if you’re not playing the early game, you still have to be there to help umpire or another coach may not show up and you need to help one of the other teams.”
And there are times when the job turns into an all-day duty, according to Shannon youth league coodinator Miriam Hallmark.
“Sometimes I would go before work to see if something like a shovel or a marking machine was there, because the coaches are going to be looking for them when they get there,” she said. “The extra work comes with the territory.”
Hallmark said it’s a lot of work organizing a youth sports league in a small city. But she adds the Shannon league is doing well with the assistance of many volunteers who want to give the youths there an opportunity to have fun.
“We’re doing it for the kids,” she said. “We want to keep the kids busy. If you keep his hands busy and his mind busy, he’s not likely to get out here and get in trouble. And, they’re learning the fundamentals that they’re going to need when they play school ball.”
When Tupelo’s Sportplex was a new facility in the mid 1980s, Peggy Adderholt volunteered her time as a concession stand worker while her husband coached their two children in soccer.
Because other volunteer help was hard to find, Park and Rec began to pay people to work there. Pay or no pay, Adderholt said she wants to help the soccer program with her work.
“I still like being out there, even though my kids got older,” she said. “It reminds me of when they were young, and now that they’re older you kind of miss that.”
Adderholt said she continues to work there because she enjoys soccer and watching the kids play.
“It’s fun to watch them grow from the little bitty things when their shorts meet their shin guards to when they get 17 and 18,” she said.
In today’s busy world, it’s hard for many people to find a slot in their schedule for youth activities. Leagues often struggle to find coaches or referees/umpires, sometimes even delaying the start of a season until each team has a coach.
“Some people have jobs that prohibit them from doing some of those things,” Taylor said. “And that’s OK, as long as they show up and support their child. It really doesn’t matter what capacity they fill, as long as they do what they can do, even if it’s just showing up and sitting in the stands and yelling for them.”
And if you have time and want to get involved in helping youth sports activities anywhere in Lee County, Adderholt said you’ll enjoy it.
“In the long run,” she said, “if you stick with it, to me it’s worth it because of the time you spend with your kids and other kids, too.”