On Monday, I was at the Mary Bethune Complex fields to watch the first night of the Dixie Softball season.

It was in that moment standing in the hot, muggy evening that I realized the importance youth sports plays in local communities.

In local recreation league sports, anyone who wants to play is free to join for a small fee — not the fees involved with travel ball, showcases or other things like that. This isn’t to knock travel ball at all, it’s just to point out that local youth sports leagues are different in that aspect.

Any child of any background and of any talent level can join the local Dixie softball or baseball leagues and will be welcomed with open arms. The coaches and more experienced players help those just starting out, teaching them the game and helping them improve in areas they may struggle.

The volunteer coaches, board members and so many other people involved who give their time to help teach these young children the game of baseball and softball get lost in the shuffle. There are so many other volunteers who are involved with other aspects of the operation such as those who work the concession stands or help prepare the fields.

Without these people youth sports doesn’t exist. My mother was the head of the Dixie Youth league I played in growing up, and I remember how much went into that task. The constant phone calls, meetings, making sure there were people to work the concession stand, organizing the district tournaments are just the things I can remember from when I was 8 or 9 years old. I am sure there are hundreds of other minute things as well that I didn’t even realize.

The reason these people put in their time — free of charge — is of course for the kids. The impact you can have on a kid starts with these leagues at the age of 4 can be huge. I can personally attest to this. Even though my dad coached me when I was young, there were so many assistant coaches, other parents and even umpires who I remember having an impact on me. These men and women may not have known it then, but even the smallest gestures can mean the world to a child.

Ian Desmond of the Colorado Rockies made headlines recently when he opted out of the 2020 season citing the risk of COVID-19. He penned a lengthy Instagram post about his opting out of the season, but he also touched on youth sports, and I wanted to share some of what he said.

In addition to talking about opting out of the season, Desmond wrote about recently traveling to the little league fields in Sarasota, Florida, where he was raised. He said the fields were in rough shape and while he was walking around he stopped at a memorial for Dick Lee who was the Coast Federal head coach and manager in the Sarasota Little League from 1973-1985. I will leave you with the quote that was on the memorial. (It references baseball and boys, but this can be applied to all sports and genders).

“Many men have cherished some of their greatest moments in life while stopping and taking time to reflect back on the young men they have helped develop, from childhood into manhood, with the ability to carry on in life. In no other activity has man been able to see his growth better than he has in the heart and character of this nation.

To see our youth grow and develop in the knowledge and skills to play baseball is a reward that only one who has been involved with would know. Baseball not only develops the physical skills of our youth, but develops a person with a knowledge of fair play while always stressing a desire to win.

That great moment comes when you look at the final product and realize the job is done. There’s nothing more satisfying when watching these young men than hearing that familiar voice call out ‘Hi coach!’ transcending that special spirit of pride.”

Johnathan Kirland is a sports writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him jkirkland@gazettevirginian.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnathanK_GV