"If we have more information -- better information -- we can make better choices and build a better Philadelphia."
The thrill ride that was the Year of the Taney Dragons was great fun and I joined so many who cheered on our team as they competed in the Little League World Series. But, if we really want to honor our young heroes, we shouldn't squander our enthusiasm on a rally that will last an afternoon. Instead let's invest in their futures -- and the future of all Philadelphia's young athletes -- by upgrading the facilities and programs that will produce future champions.
Diamonds In The Rough
One of the most important lessons we can learn from the success of the Taney Dragons is that, given an opportunity, our children can achieve remarkable successes. But, too many Philadelphia children lack that opportunity. As a Taney parent and booster, I can report that the ball fields our young athletes play on are often inadequate and poorly maintained and sometimes potentially dangerous. When teams participate in tournaments outside the city, we find baseball complexes with manicured fields and facilities like indoor batting cages that allow programs to conduct year-round training.
Very few Philadelphia ballplayers have the chance to participate in the kinds of athletic programs that help nurture the stars of the team that carried our hopes to Williamsport, but models for success absolutely exist. Off the baseball field, my son skates with the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation. In recent years, this program has invested millions of dollars to convert dilapidated city rinks into modern and attractive facilities and has provided equipment, ice time and experienced coaching to thousands of boys and girls. The foundation does this (as well as providing off-ice educational support) at no charge to the children or their families.
The Anderson Monarchs -- the program that produced some of the 2014 Taney Dragons Little League Champions -- is another successful example. Operating out of the Marian Anderson recreation center, this program knits together year-round coaching and sports instruction with character education to build an appreciation of the roots of the game and a deep understanding of the mental side of baseball. Monarchs enjoy facilities that, while not fancy, would be the envy of many little-league organizations. Converted locker rooms serve as indoor batting tunnels and lots of TLC keeps the recreation center’s ball field in top shape.
While both programs are winning trophies and producing excellent players, participants with the Anderson Monarchs and the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation do not just enjoy athletic success. They have worlds of opportunities opened for them – connections to better schooling, potential for college scholarships, and mentoring that establishes professional connections -- through their participation in their sports.
It takes more than just good will, enthusiastic cheering, and applause to make this happen. Investing in our Taney Dragons and our other budding stars will require resources -- time, effort, and money. It will take making capital improvements and maintenance for athletic facilities a priority and it will take making a commitment from public and private sources to build and expand programs across the city.
The City of Philadelphia collects about $20 million each year from an Amusement Tax that generates much of its revenues from the tax on tickets to professional sporting events. Dedicating a portion of Amusement Tax revenues each year to an Athletic Facility Improvement Fund could support significant capital improvements across the Philadelphia.
As part of Philadelphia’s stadium-finance deal, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Philadelphia Phillies make a $2 million annual contribution to the Philadelphia Foundation’s Fund for Children. Focusing a portion of grants from the Fund for Children on under-served athletic programs could be a huge boost for youth sports across the city.
Of course, we should not suffer from any delusions that if we build it we will be producing the next crop of Little League World Series Champions. But participation in sports is not just about producing professional athletes; it is about embracing fitness, building character, and having fun. Opportunities in athletics open up opportunities in education, careers, and personal development. The pride we all took from the performance of the Taney Dragons was not just in their success on the field, but in their dogged resilience, their poised manner, and their infectious joy. Their future looks bright even if they never pick up a baseball again.
Root, Root, Root For The Home Team
After this magical run to the Little League World Series, interest in Taney baseball is up dramatically and with that interest will come a need for more fields, more coaches, and more support. Let's not disappoint our aspiring champions by telling them there's no place for them to play or that we can't support their big dreams.
By all means let's give the Taney Dragons a wonderful welcome home so we can let them know how much their talent and personality won our hearts. Then, let's get to work to make sure that Philadelphia's baseball diamonds are fields of dreams for all of Philadelphia's growing ballplayers so we can send the next Philadelphia team to the Little League World Series -- and to every other championship ballpark, gridiron, pitch, rink, and arena -- where they can make us proud.