Friday, May 18, 2012

Diamond programs for middle school are a hit

Baseball and softball this spring

     New youth baseball and softball programs for middle school students have been a big hit this spring in the WoodRiverValley. The early arrival of spring-like weather has enabled the kids to get out on the fields and to learn more about the diamond sports.

     The developmental programs are organized under the auspices of the Wood River Baseball and Softball Association’s Babe Ruth division with the support of the BlaineCountySchool District and administrators at Hailey’s WoodRiverMiddle School.

     The Idaho Mountain Express contacted two of the prime movers and asked them to comment on the progress.

     It’s worth noting that the school district has not officially welcomed baseball and softball into the list of school-sanctioned sports, which include football, basketball, volleyball and track. Currently the programs are “club sports.”

     Spokesmen are softball’s Tim Rierden, an eighth-grade special education teacher at WoodRiverMiddle School, and baseball’s Lars Hovey, a WoodRiverHigh School physical education/health teacher who co-founded the high school baseball program in 1992 and coached it for many years.

     Rierden said, “It’s been a real privilege to be involved in a healthy program on the rise. Last year we were able to field two teams. A lot of us thought that might have just been one of those rare years. This year proved it was no fluke. We have two solid rosters of 12-13 players each.  Each grade level at the school is well represented.

     “So far we’ve traveled to Twin Falls and Jerome and also hosted them here. We held a mini-tourney last weekend, playing teams from Jerome and Twin at the high school and middle school fields. Each team has five games remaining, two at home and three on the road. The girls are improving each week and showing great enthusiasm for the game.

     “We are a developmental program. Our philosophy dictates that winning is not a goal. Winning is a byproduct of preparation and play by those with a sound foundation in the fundamentals of the game.

     “We want our players to learn the game from many positions and develop the attitude that the most important skill they bring to the team is a desire and ability to contribute from any position on the field. We try to find the player’s personal strengths and coach them to apply what comes naturally to a softball skill-set. When a player knows she can compete at two or three positions it improves her confidence and understanding of the game.”

     As for the future, Rierden said, “It’s our hope to have the School District adopt it as a regular team sport. This would create the natural path from sixth to 12th grade that other ball sports enjoy.

     “We are fortunate that Dale Martin, Jim Bradley and the high school coaches and players have taken us under their wing. We regularly have high school players and coaches at our practices working with our players. That kind of support goes a long way to improve the quality of instruction.”

     The baseball program has 36 boys divided into three teams coached by Hovey and Sam Urbany, by Larry Lloyd and Mike Levy, and by Jon Peavey and Kirk Felger. The program covers eight weeks and features about 12 games before the season-ending tournament the first week of June.

     Hovey said, “We’re trying to foster a cohesive unit of baseball players, coaches and parents rather than three individual teams. We’ve done this by having position-specific and combined team practices, rather than separate team practices. We’ve had the high school staff attend practices.

     “The emphasis is on instruction and the focus is on increasing the numbers at the high school level. The School District has contributed a great deal to the ‘middle school program,’ although it’s officially a Babe Ruth program under the auspices of the WRBSA.

     “The development of the baseball and softball fields at the middle school has been a terrific asset, as well as the opportunity to practice immediately after school. We are also utilizing School District transportation (vans) to reduce the time and cost of travel for parents to away games.

     “We definitely feel a partnership with the BlaineCountySchool District and the WoodRiverMiddle School and wouldn’t have been able to accomplish nearly what we have without their support.

     “As for the future, I personally feel that we are in a position to take the next step and become a school-sanctioned sport. There are 12 sports sanctioned by the Idaho High School Activities Association including baseball and softball. We support all 12 at the high school level and are only missing baseball, softball, golf and tennis as feeder programs at the middle school level.”

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