MARIETTA, Ga. (BP) – Parents want their kids involved in sports, whether that’s locally or in travel ball. In addition to physical activity, they see it as a way to improve mental and emotional health.
They’re asking, and trusting, coaches to do more in all those areas.
Those are just a few of the observations from the 2022 State of Play report by the Aspen Institute, which conducts an annual analysis among American children ages 6 to 18. Those results match the observations of Noonday Baptist Church’s men’s ministry 20 years ago.
The first pitch went out on March 13, 2003, with young athletes competing on two fields Noonday had converted from its one softball field. Opening Day for 2023 will be March 25 at 10 a.m., with the Iron Pigs jumpstarting things against the Grasshoppers in T-ball action while the other field sees the Red Wings attempt to wreck the Lugnuts in kid pitch. Noonday’s third level, machine pitch, will start at 11:30 as the Hooks stare down the Yard Goats.
Amid the sound of the ball pinging off a bat into leather and the smell of grilling hot dogs, the league’s values will remain from their starting point two decades ago.
“Noonday Baseball is first and foremost a ministry and a vessel to spread the Gospel in our community,” said Mark Somers, Noonday Baptist Church pastor and one of the coaches. “It’s set up as a recreational development league, meaning it focuses on development of the most basic baseball skills for kids.”
More than 3.6 million kids ages 6-12 play baseball in various leagues and organizations across the country. One of the largest is not even a mile from the Noonday fields and has a long list of alumni playing Major League ball. The surrounding area loves the sport, something the church saw as an opportunity.
“We wanted to have a positive impact on our community because many parents were disgusted with the foul language and degrading behavior seen in other leagues,” Somers said. “They also expressed how they would like coaches to encourage their kids instead of tear them down for mistakes or bad play.”
Noonday Baseball is one of many options for parents, but it’s not travel ball. Practices are limited to one hour a week, with devotionals just as much a part of the fabric of the game as balls and bats. All games are played on Saturdays. Coaches volunteer their time. Local high school and college players with whom Noonday has relationships conduct preseason pitching and catching clinics.
“Most parents bring their kids because they like the Christian environment and the low-key nature of the program,” Somers said. “Our Kid Pitch League (ages 9-12) does get competitive, and like all rec leagues, the quality of play – particularly pitching and hitting – shows remarkable improvement by the end of the season.”
Players and parents travel as far as 25 miles to be a part of it all.
“Feedback over the years has been very positive,” he said. “Our coaches have become a parental favorite in our community due to their favorable outlook on each player. We strive in building leadership skills that can carry on through life and emphasize positivity, encouraging other teammates, being intentional in baseball instruction and good sportsmanship to shake hands after the game.
“Some players have gone on to play on travel/feeder teams and others have gone to play in more competitive rec ball programs. Some do return to Noonday, because of the positive, fun environment.”
The State of Play report showed programming for community-based sports as well as travel sports continuing to rebound since the pandemic. Parents gave three reasons they would choose the former – more playing time, a more inclusive environment and lower costs. It was also important that coaches see their child as more than an athlete who can help win the game.
Those values line up with Noonday Baseball’s approach.
“In the end, it’s all about telling kids and their families about the Gospel and the blessings of Jesus,” Somers said. “If we can teach them to have fun and pitch, catch, hit and throw along the way, even better!”