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Little League is hurting in Forest Park. Girls Softball is on life-support. President John Tricoci Jr. is dismayed by the lack of enthusiasm for baseball among the town's 900-plus grade school students. Thirty boys showed up for the first indoor practice at St. John's gym but only three girls have expressed interest in softball.
Five years ago, Little League fielded 21 teams. Last year it was 11, with no 13-year-old boys team or girls team. At press time, they only have five teams for 2012.
John wasn't even good at baseball, but he played for Forest Park Little League teams until he was 14. During his last season, he got exactly two hits. He was also a lineman on the town's last Kiwanis football team in 1985. When it comes to raising their three children, John and his wife Katie have a simple objective: They want them to have a childhood like theirs.
To this end, Katie teaches CCD and is active in Cubs Scouts and Girl Scouts. John is on the District 91 school board, a Kiwanis member and longtime participant in Little League.
Growing up in Forest Park, he was a constant presence at the Garfield School playground, where he played baseball with lifelong friends like Eric Entler and Nick Novak. There were impromptu basketball and football games, as well as baseball competitions like "500" and "Running Bases."
I grew up the same way, avoiding indoors at all costs. During my first tour of duty as a Forest Park Little League coach, I had like-minded kids who played sports daily. On my second tour, I coached boys who talked about video games on their way to the game. I had single-parent players with plastic mitts, no parent to teach him the game.
You only get to be a kid once. If you ask me, it's much more enjoyable than adulthood. Yet many children are in a hurry to become adults and are missing out on the fun. It used to be if I took my kids to a park to play baseball, neighborhood kids would join us. Now they stand on the sidelines, staring at their cellphones.
John sees many benefits to Little League. It builds strength, agility and confidence. You get to meet kids from other parts of town. You learn teamwork, discipline and patience.
The next indoor practice is this Saturday, March 3, at St. John's. Final registration is March 24. Opening Day is April 28.
Did you ever get a hit or make a play that had your teammates charging out of the dugout? Were you ever handed a game ball? Did you ever get a token to spend at the Dugout Caf after a game? If not, you may be missing out on a little thing called childhood in Forest Park.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.