Baseball Striking Out With Morton Grove Kids?

The game might be financially booming in the majors. But at its roots, such as in the local program, there are problems in keeping the kids interested. The number of kids registering drops every year.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig may be promoting a “renaissance”
in the sport, but that is not not happening with the 57-year-old Morton Grove Baseball and Softball Association.

Yvette Karp, one of Morton Grove's most active volunteers, and her fellow baseball association board members are vexed by a stunning drop in player registration over the last four years that does not synch with any overall decrease in Morton Grove’s population.


“Where have the kids gone? I don’t know,” said Karp, association
president for the last two years. She also assists her husband, Jim Karp,
director of the Morton Grove Foundation, which has as its biggest annual fund-raiser.

With registration having closed March 1 for the ages 7-to-14 boys baseball and girls softball programs, Karp is scratching her head over the huge decrease since 2008.

“Registration is extremely low this year,” said Karp.

In 2008, total registration was 327. A modest drop then ensued with 313 for 2009. Then a steep decline to 269 was recorded for 2010.  In 2011, 254 registered. This year’s total dropped sharply again, to 221.

The biggest one-year decline, according to Karp, was for the entry-level 7- and-8-year-old Pigtails girls softball league. Thirty-three registered in 2011, but just 16 signed this season.

Karp does not believe the declines are tied into the recession
and its aftermath.

Costs range from $85 to $115

"It’s a change in culture more than the economy,” she said. “We
have players on payment plans.  I tell them all I need from you is $10 to cover the Park District cost and we’ll waive the rest.  I know the last two years the  economy has been so bad, and everyone has had difficult times. I want the kid to play. We will not (prevent him from playing).”

Annual per-player costs are $85 for the 7- and 8-year-old Pigtails softball and Rookie baseball. Minors and Junior Pony Tails (ages 9 and 10) are $100. The highest fee is $115 for Pony and Senior Pony Tails (ages 13
and 14) due to higher umpire costs, said Karp.

Some kids prefer soccer

The appeal of always-moving soccer, played in the same spring sports season as baseball and softball, is one – but not the entire – explanation, she added.

"I have four girls of my own,” she said. “They all have played soccer and softball. My junior in high school says she prefers soccer over softball. In fact all have preferred soccer over softball because it’s faster-paced. There’s always something going on.

“They say I don’t have to stand around in right field, left field, center field and wait for a ball to come to me. It may not happen at all. There’s a lot of waiting around in softball.”

The Karp girls are Lindsey, 19, a college freshmen; Michelle, 17, a  junior at Niles West; Danielle, 14, an eighth-grader at Park View School, and Jacqueline, 12, a sixth-grader at Parkview.

“Is it parents who are over-scheduled, who say they can’t do both soccer and softball?” Karp speculated. “They’ll do soccer because the kids
enjoy it more.”

Getting kids up to bat

Karp said she is getting help in promoting baseball and softball from John Frake, whom she described as working with District 219 as liaison to her organization.

“John has tried to work progressively in the middle schools to put in a baseball or softball unit in the PE classes, to reach the kids who don’t ever play baseball and softball,” she said. “We’ve talked about going to
those gym classes and getting kids excited about the game.  I’m finding that kids are not staying interested (from age 7 to 13).”

They're not shutting down

If registration dips below 200 in a future season, Karp vowed the baseball and softball organization will stay in business.

“The financial health of the program is still there,” she said. “That’s not going anywhere. We continue. To me, there’s always a need for our program. Kids are going to play baseball and softball in the future. We’re
more affordable than any travel or feeder team. We are at the low end of the (financial) totem pole.”

Karp admits she is operating in an entire new world compared
to her childhood, when kids played ball all day.

“My mother used to say to me, 'when the street lights go on,
that’s when you come home,'” she said.

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