Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Library

With the advent of the regional tournaments, which qualify teams for the Little League World Series in Williamsport, a look at some of the major books on Little League and youth sports . . .

(Got other books you'd like to add to the list? Email me at euchner@gmail.com and I'll update the list.)

Charles Euchner, Little League, Big Dreams: Last summer I traveled all over the country trying to understand how Little League works -- how it engages kids and their parents and coaches, what lessons it teaches, the looming threat posed by rival leagues and tournaments, and what might be done to restore the soul of youth baseball. This book is the result. Hope you enjoy it.

Lance and Robin Van Auken, Play Ball: A history of Little League from the current PR honcho at the Williamsport organization and his wife, a sociologist. The book explores Little League's problems as well as its triumphs, including the civil war between Little League's founder and the corporate honchoes that took over the league, scandals over violations of eligibility, race and gender bias. Great historic photos make the book a useful introduction.

Lewis Yablonsky, The Little League Game: A good overview of Little League, its operations and culture.

Destiny's Darlings: An affecting Boys of Summer-style portrait of the 1956 Little League World Series champions from Schenectdady, New York. The author, who grew up with the champions, visits them 20 years later to find out how the experience shaped their lives. As you can imagine, some did well, others struggled. The most poignant passages for me concern the player who got bitter when he did not make a Babe Ruth team the year after the championhsiop that he never played baseball again.

Bill Geist, Little League Confidential: A wry suburban father;'s account of coaching a Little League team.

Gary Alan Fine, With the Boys: In this brilliant portrait of the culture of Little League, Gary Fine explores the inner worlds of both the kids who play and the adults who guide them. Fine understands that the character of the peer culture determines the quality of the experience. Unfortunately, he finds, the coaches and parents turn a playful activity into a rule-bound activity where kids feel they have to perform to get the approval of adults. Too often, Fine says, the coach "doesn't respond to baseball plays but to the meanings of those plays for him." Even though the kids have ways of making the games their own, the adults' rules, routines, and lecturing can such the oxygen out of the experience.

Other youth sports

Joan Ryan, Pretty Girls in Little Boxes: If any young athletes are forced to perform at an early agem it's the girls in gynmastics. Ryan senstitively watches the girls get whipped into shape by

H.G. Bissinger, Friday Night Lights: A classic account of a season in the life of the Permian High School football team in Odessa, Texas. Bissinger lived with the team all season and captured the intensity and poignance of a game that's too important for the town and the people who live there.

Wayne Coffey, Winning Sounds Like This: A poignant take about a season with the Gallaudet College women's basketball team. Coffey, a reporter for the New York Daily News, not only shows the drama of sports at the college level, but delves deeply into the world of the deaf. Without getting sentimental or treakley, Coffey explores the often heroic tales of the women who are doing everyuthing they can to succeed in a hearing world while also embracing their deafness.

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