On the Sidelines

Richard Quinn

ONE OF THE GREAT blessings in life is grandchildren. In fact, as I think back on our childrearing years, skipping the children and going right to the grandchildren would have been great. Just kidding, Rick, Chris, Caryn and Craig.

Here I sit as a retiree on a Saturday morning, what to do, what to do? Are you kidding me?

When you have 13 grandchildren all living within an hour or so from your home, weekends are always booked—with sports. You have your choice of sports, too. There’s the most popular: soccer. There’s football—being in the marching band counts. Plus there’s baseball, lacrosse, track and basketball.

Several of our grandkids play multiple sports. Today, we have baseball and soccer games. Tomorrow, it’s two baseball games and three soccer matches. We aren’t going to make them all, but we’ll be putting some extra miles on the car for sure.

It was at one of the baseball games three years ago that my wife was hit with a line drive and lost sight in her eye. Needless to say, we are extra careful where we sit these days. We’ve learned a lot about ballfields since, including that many are not constructed to safety codes or maintained properly. Be careful where you sit.

Sports seem to consume a great deal of time these days, and not only on weekends. There are practices during the week. Getting from here to there with multiple children playing on different teams must be quite a chore for parents.

When I was a boy, l walked a mile or so to play—quite badly—on a Little League baseball team. My parents never came to a game. My father worked six days a week, and we didn’t have a car. In any case, my mother never had a license.

I don’t know how the grandkids do it, but they seem to thrive. I don’t know how they wear those 20-pound backpacks to school, either. Hey, I’m old, we carried our books covered in newspapers as we walked to school. I count that as a sport.

What does all this activity cost? Big bucks. There are fees to join a team and the league, plus you have to buy uniforms, the required footwear, equipment and perhaps lessons. Then there are sometimes travel expenses. Some of the teams travel considerable distances for tournaments—even out of state. Once you’re at a game, the snack bar lures you in for a hot dog or a pretzel.

The typical parent spends $693 per child each year on youth sports, and that’s just the basic stuff. Some families pay $9,000 to $12,000 annually on elite programs, depending on the sport. That excludes what’s spent on private lessons. Many parents struggle between wanting to do the best for their children and the financial burden. That burden, of course, weighs especially heavily on low-income families.

Playing sports has become a trap, I believe. Parents don’t want to deny their children what their peers have, plus they believe sports are healthy. They’re willing to sacrifice time and money in the hope that sports will give their child a valuable experience—and perhaps a route to college.

In many ways, it’s not unlike when we sent our children to college. We sacrificed a lot to fix those college decals on our cars’ rear windows, all in the hope that we were setting up our children for a prosperous adult life.

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