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Where we live: Small town advantage in sports

Published August 10. 2018 11:34PM

Another season of Little League Baseball has come to an end and it’s been great.

The team on which my grandsons played had an awesome season. Tyler’s all-star team also played great and won a tournament.

It’s been said that baseball is a dying sport, and hopefully that isn’t true.

One thing for certain. I’m glad we live in a small town.

Here’s why.

Some great rivalries were created between our Anthracite team and other neighboring teams from such areas as Jim Thorpe, Tamaqua, Franklin Township and Towamensing Township.

In a small town, there’s a great chance these rivalries and friendships will continue into high school. Obviously not every player will get to play high school baseball, but you can bet many of these boys will face each other when Panther Valley plays the neighboring schools.

In larger cities, the journey into high school sports is a lot less certain. For example, Anthracite played teams from Valley East, McAdoo and Valley West, all in the Hazleton School District. When these players get to high school, Hazleton High School has one team. That means it selects youths not only from the three teams mentioned above, but also from Hazle Township, West Hazleton and Hazleton.

There were a lot of good — and baseball-loving — players on those teams, but sadly there isn’t much room on the one high school team for all of them.

It’s the same in Allentown, Bethlehem, Reading and other metropolitan areas. Those regions are saturated with Little League teams, but after Little League there isn’t much baseball opportunity. Sure there’s Babe Ruth, American Legion and other leagues. It’s not the same as representing your hometown in high school ball.

Watching teams like Anthracite, Franklin, etc. play, you can almost predict who the future high school stars are going to be. Playing high school is a realistic goal and an incentive for these kids.

That’s one reason why the PIAA has divisions based on enrollments. For schools such as Hazleton High School, it is basically an all-star team from all the encompassing Little League teams. Here, most of the same youths who remain dedicated to Little League and show potential will be on the high school teams.

There’s another benefit.

In the small towns, the parents get to know each other not only at games, but off the field as well.

Few Little League teams attract more parents and grandparents in the area than Anthracite, Franklin Township, etc. In high school games, the parents continue the attendance.

I recall a football game at Pleasant Valley a couple of years ago when the Bears played Allentown schools. The visiting side of the field had easily fewer than 100 people (not counting the band). There just wasn’t the support for those city schools from fans that you see in small towns.

In my journalism career, I had the opportunity to go with larger newspapers in more populous areas. Not once did I ever regret not making the change.

Now, seeing my grandsons have as much fun playing baseball, and knowing there’s a good chance those opportunities will continue through I school, I’m convinced that there are opportunities a small town affords that would never be available in other regions.

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