I think a read of “Harrison Bergeron” - a short story by Kurt Vonnegut - might be appropriate just now.
The gist of the stor is that at some time in the future anyone in this country with talent is given a handicap by the “Handicapper General” of the United States to ensure that everyone is “equal.” One example in the story is that of a ballerina being made to carry lead weights to prevent her from being more graceful than anyone else.
The reason I think we should read the story is because of what recently happened to 9-year-old Jericho Scott who used to pitch in the Youth Baseball League of New Haven, Connecticut.
I say “used to” because Jericho no longer pitches. In fact, Jericho’s entire team has been disbanded. You see, Jericho was good. He had a fastball that basically made him the Youth League equivalent of Nolan Ryan.
Didn’t matter that he had good control and hadn’t beaned anyone. Didn’t matter that he wasn’t cheating. All that mattered was that his pitches were, according to the league’s lawyer, too fast.
Because of this, league officials declared that he couldn’t pitch and, when his coach defied them and put him into a game, the other team walked off and the local “Handicappers General” eventually canned Jericho’s team.
I’m not sure when or why we ever started listening to this “everyone should be equal, things are too hard, competition’s bad, no one should have their feelings hurt” drivel, but there sure seems to be too much of it going around these days.
When we were kids, most of us have played some sport or other. I once played for a team called the Oak Street Merchants. We weren’t very good, we knew it, and we proved it by finishing dead last in our league.
Despite this, we still played every game and even managed to have fun. None of us became serial killers. Neither was our growth stunted nor were we aware of the fact that we were losing (Horrors!) self-esteem by the boatload.
Anyway, sometime during that season, we became aware of a kid on another team who had a fastball that you could actually hear sizzling as it blew past you. Scarier still was the fact that no one was sure where the ball was going when he let it go.
Did the league officials tell this kid or his coach that he couldn’t pitch? Nope.
Did other teams walk off the field and forfeit games when he pitched against them? Fat chance.
Did parents worry when they saw their sons stand in against him? Probably, but there was also a lot of clapping and “get a hit” type cheers coming from their mouths.
Did we bat against him? We had to. He was on one team and we were on another. It was called baseball and that’s what we’d signed up for.
The one time that I batted against him, I saw the ball leave his hand and immediately got busy trying to get out of its way. Still, it caught me in the side and left stitch marks that could be seen before the purple and greens started showing up.
It hurt, but when I got to first, I started feeling pretty good about the whole thing - mainly because I’d choked back some fear, stood in against him, and got on base. I also found out that getting hit wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
In fact, their first baseman said something to the effect of “Bet that hurt” and told me that he’d taken one in the back from the kid during batting practice. We both laughed.
These days, what would be good to remember is that life is nothing but competition and sports help introduce kids to winning and losing, having to perform, and facing fear when they’d really rather be somewhere else.
Telling a kid he can’t pitch because he’s “too fast” is absurd.
Telling other kids that you’re going to save them from facing a tough situation is downright dumb. It’s dumb because, in life, they’re going to face some pretty stiff challenges and find that no one’s going to step in to make them go away.
Facing Jericho might have helped some kids learn this. Unfortunately, league officials told them that, when the going gets tough, just walk off the field and go home.
Yeah, that’s just the kind of lesson we need to be teaching our kids these days.
Biography - Larry Simoneaux
Larry Simoneaux is a regular columnist for The Everett Herald in Washington state. He is a retired ship driver for the US Navy and NOAA.