With no winners or losers, Concord Little League’s summer baseball program brings unique approach to youth athletes

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 08-18-2023 11:00 AM

This isn’t just some new, “everybody gets a trophy” approach. In the 25 years Gary Ford’s worked with Concord Little League, they’ve never kept score.

During the summer, when kids may just want to have some time to improve their skills without the pressure of needing to win, the area’s Little League program provides that chance. The only number that really matters: five. That’s how many runs are allowed to score in an inning before the other team gets a chance to hit.

“We have a mixture of kids that are playing that have some talent. We have some kids that don’t have much talent but want to get better, and the whole idea is that by not keeping score – five runs an inning, and then after the inning, we wipe out the score to 0-0 – the kids just play for fun, have a little bit of a relaxed time,” Ford said. “It’s great to see.”

The league also prides itself on former players returning to umpire or coach. Shea Morgan, now 20 years old and a student at Southern New Hampshire University, once played as part of the league and now coaches a team of 9- through 12-year-olds. He knows well the positive impact the league’s structure can have on the players.

“It really makes it easier and a little less stressful,” he said of the lack of attention paid to scoring. “It kind of helps the kids just not worry and go out. … It’s a lot easier for the kids to be OK with making mistakes and stuff like that.”

There is the flip side to that coin, however. With no worries about winning, that could lead players to lose focus or goof around during games. While that’s an issue Morgan’s dealt with, some of the older players help remind their teammates of the importance of taking advantage of the opportunity to become better players.

“I’ve had a lot of guys on the team that are good at being on-the-field coaches, so they can kind of help keep a lot of players in line,” he said.

“We have guys who know each other outside baseball, and they go to the same school, and they’re from the same area, so they kind of already know each other, and I think easily enough, a lot of the guys can pick up other guys and be like, ‘Hey, let’s go out there, and let’s have fun, but let’s also give it a good try at least and try to stay
focused.’ ”

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The program features players from as young as 7 and as old as 12, and it’s a chance for them to explore other avenues of the game that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Like, for example, learning how to play catcher.

Ford remembered one kid he coached who’d never caught before but tried it out when he was 10 during the summer league, and by the following summer, he’d become one of the top catchers in the league.

“Sometimes (the players) say, ‘Hey, I’ve never tried third base, I’ve never tried shortstop,’ so we coaches try to get those kids in some of the games in their positions that they want to try,” Ford said. “If they’re playing in the outfield, later in the game they’re playing in the infield, and in the infield, they go out and play in the outfield, so they get equal treatment and equal playing time.”

While some of the kids in the older age range prefer to focus their attention on the All-Star team – with the chance to represent New Hampshire in Williamsport for the Little League World Series – some will do both, drawn to the relaxed atmosphere.

The league’s also drawn players from neighboring communities: Bow, Hopkinton, Penacook, Suncook and Pittsfield, to name a few.

Coming out of the pandemic, the league had three teams for the younger division (7-, 8- and 9-year-olds) and two for the older division (10-, 11- and 12-year-olds). This summer, the younger division has seven teams, and the older division has six.

Players might play in other leagues where winning matters a great deal, but Concord Little League takes great pride in letting its players explore and learn more about the game during the hot summer months.

“Just a fun, relaxing time,” Ford said. “It’s no-pressure baseball, and I think that’s the appeal of the whole program.”

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