Popularity of youth sports in the Hood River Valley has reached an all-time high over the past decade.
More parents and volunteers are involved, more programs are available to kids, and the athletic facilities are some of the best in the state.
Coaching philosophies have changed; high-school “feeder” programs have been developed for football, soccer, wrestling and lacrosse; and parents are more and more willing to travel so their kids can compete against the best.
Sports have a lot of support here in the valley. But, because of their tremendous growth in popularity and the availability of more “club sports,” some feel that certain recreational programs are suffering.
“There are many factors that have played into Little League attrition,” said Dave Logsdon, a local 13-14 girls softball coach who fears that clubs like the American Softball Association may be taking away from opportunities at the recreational level.
“Most ASA players are coming out of the local Little League programs where they learned their fundamental skills. The problem that I’ve seen is that many ASA coaches are also involved with Little League, which becomes a conflict of interest,” he said.
Logsdon explained that players typically go where the established coaches are, and as more Little League coaches join ASA, they have better “recruiting” opportunities.
However, others such as Chuck Johnisee, the president of the local ASA and Babe Ruth Youth Baseball chapters, don’t see why kids have to choose one or the other.
“Some coaches discourage kids from playing in more than one league, but I would almost prefer that they play both,” he said. “The more playing time they have, whether they’re winning all their games or not, is what builds better, more well-rounded players.”
Johnisee believes that the coaches’ ultimate goal should be to work together to develop top-quality high-school programs.
“What’s hurting our programs is that we’re not all on the same page,” he said.
“Everyone wants what’s best for their kids, and when players reach a certain level, we need to let them go where they can continue to learn. Some kids excel at an earlier age, and we need to cater to that. Programs like ASA and Dynamos soccer only help prepare the kids who want to move forward.”
Hood River Community Education Director Mike Schend agrees.
“We’re both filling a need,” he said. “Recreational sports and club sports both have a lot of support here, and we’re not experiencing a huge rate of attrition because kids are defecting to clubs. If anything, it’s healthy to keep developing the sports more and give kids more opportunities to play.”
Schend said that in his first 15 years, before Dynamos soccer was introduced in 1995, Community Education was a “soccer mecca.” However, he said there is still enough interest from pre-school age through the eighth-grade level to continue promoting the sport.
The same is true with youth wrestling, despite the presence of a thriving Airtime Wrestling Club. Schend said that as long as families are getting what they want from an activity, any involvement should be encouraged.
“Different things happen with different organizations, but the trend we’ve been seeing with club sports here over the past few years has been mostly positive,” he said.
“Unfortunately, when a lot of new coaches look at club sports, they feel it detracts from what they’re doing. But, when you look at it a little more closely, it really is in the best interest of the kids. We shouldn’t steer them away from club sports; we should encourage them to do both,” he said.
Johnisee echoed Schend’s sentiments and added that it all starts with the coaches.
“We should all be building toward one big program,” he said. “We need to get all of our coaches together and teach them how to teach. If kids keep playing all the time and continue to learn, that’s what’s fun for them.
“Our ultimate goal should be to make our players better,” he said.