Baseball, Urbana Hawks 14U coach Brian Kane said, is one of the best sports for kids to play because it provides a great life lesson in overcoming adversity. And the fall Frederick County Babe Ruth Baseball recreational league season provides Urbana’s youth with an opportunity that’s becoming increasingly rare across the United States: to play organized baseball, for fun.
Kane and his assistant coach this fall, Darren DeGioia, both coach their sons—Brendan and Hunter—in travel baseball together in the spring. But the fall recreational league season, they agreed, is more laid-back. It’s a time for kids who play more competitively during the spring to shorten the layoff before winter workouts begin in January and continue developing their skills in a more relaxed environment—as well as a chance for kids who enjoy baseball but aren’t on the travel ball track to stay involved in the sport.
“Baseball is a sport where, if you fail seven out of 10 times, you’re considered a great hitter,” Kane said. “It’s a game of failure, and it teaches you the skills you need to overcome (obstacles and challenges) not only on the field, but on a daily basis. I think that’s a big, important life lesson for these guys and baseball is definitely a sport that can teach you how to deal with the adversities of life.”
It seems more parents are agreeing with Kane these days than in recent history. For the first time in more than a decade, youth participation in baseball increased in 2018—by 3.3 percent from 2017—according to the Aspen Institute’s Project Play 2019 statistics. The initiative, according to the Aspen Institute website, is geared toward promoting youth participation in organized sport, hoping to support the development of healthy children and communities.
The 4,100,000 kids ages 6 to 12 who played baseball regularly in 2018 was second only to basketball (4,200,000) among team sports. But, on average, according to the Aspen Institute, kids quit playing baseball regularly before their 11th birthday—after an average of just over three years. The main reason? Local recreation leagues are a dying breed. Travel-team culture has taken over youth sports and as travel baseball leagues pull talented athletes, and in general, athletes who come from wealthier families that can afford paying the higher costs for membership and travel, the majority of recreational leagues that still exist have been left diminished.
The 14U Urbana Hawks, who went undefeated (19-0-1) and won the season-ending championship with a 3-0 victory over the Frederick Storm on Nov. 2, knew from the start of the season that they had something special this fall, DeGioia said. “There were no egos, (the travel players) didn’t see themselves as better than (the non-travel players); everyone got along really well,” DeGioia said.
“There were a lot of leaders that were formed this fall. There was a lot of camaraderie and a lot of support. All the kids brought a lot of high energy and everyone was very supportive of each other. It was a really cool dynamic.”
The Hawks batted .438 as a team this fall and in 20 games outscored their opponents 227-45, for a run differential of 182. The team with the next biggest run differential outscored its opponents by 72. The championship game was a pitcher’s duel, won by Windsor Knolls Middle School eighth grader Landon Huth, who threw a no-hitter.
“I think it’s great that Urbana offers rec leagues because there are kids who don’t want to play at a higher level, or don’t have the ability to play at a higher level,” DeGioia said. “Sports are about competition, but it’s also about fun and it’s great that our community allows so many different sports to have rec divisions to allow kids to compete.”
Note: The following athletes were members of the Urbana Hawks 14U championship team—Taylor Elder, Ryan Wolz, Jayden Joseph, Landon Huth, Lewis James, Hunter DeGioia, Jake Levow, Sydney Grimes, Manas Sharma, Colin Willens, Jeremy Larrick, Kevin Roberts, Austin Pelicano and Ty Long.