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Q&A With Donald R. Soucy

Tuesday, August 10, 1999

"Levey Live" appears each Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. It's your chance to talk directly to to key Washington Post reporters and editors, local officials and people in the news.

Bob Levey
Bob Levey
Craig Cola/washingtonpost.com
Bob is LIVE this week from Bristol, CT, where the Washington, D.C. all-star Little League Baseball team--for which Bob's son, Allie, is the starting short stop--is one of 12 state champion teams from the east coast playing in the eastern regional tournament.

Taking a break from cheering Allie on, Bob will spend the hour discussing Little League with Donald R. Soucy, the eastern regional director of Little League Baseball since 1991. The eastern region of Little League is the largest region in the world, covering 11 states and Washington, D.C. Played in over 94 countries, Little League Baseball is the largest youth sports organization in the world.

Donald R. Soucy
Donald R. Soucy
Born in Bristol, Soucy oversaw the construction and operation of the Giamatti Little League Center. He also played an important role in making softball in the eastern region the largest softball program in Little League Baseball.

Here is a transcript of today's session:




Arlington, VA: When I played Little League softball and my brothers played baseball in the late 70s and early 80s, pushy parents were a problem, and caused many good coaches to quit coaching. This was in a rural area. I can imagine this has only gotten worse, particularly in an area like D.C., with so many self-important people running about. How do you deal with difficult parents, and is keeping good coaches a problem?

Donald R. Soucy: Pushy parents are not novel. It's part of any sports program and not any different in Little League Baseball. The key is the coach and the manager of the teams. It's important for the parents to get involved with the election of the officers of the league who appoint the coaches and managers. If they would gear their energies to that venue, then the kids will have more fun.


Bristol, CT: We under security is fairly tight around the understand that this week...access limited to fields and players. Why??

Donald R. Soucy: Security is relatively tight for the protection of the players and it prepares them for extremely tight security at the Little League World Series.


Bob Levey: Don, you mentioned to me last night that three girls are playing in this year's Eastern Regional playoffs. Is that the largest number of girls you've ever had at the tournament?

Donald R. Soucy: We've never had more than one, so this is the most. We understand they're pretty good players, so we're looking to have some exciting games with the females, two of whom are from Maine and one from Massachusetts.


rockville, md: okay, who are invited and how
is the little league playoffs
set up?

bw

Donald R. Soucy: First your baseball association has to be chartered with Little League Baseball, Inc. After that, you have a regular season. After that season, all-star teams are chosen. You move on from district to section to state, regional, and then world series play, assuming you keep winning. We would love to have Rockville become a part of Little League Baseball.


Bob Levey: As a veteran Little League Dad, I worry that the kids play games too often and practice too little. Sometimes a child has barely batted against live pitching, and all of a sudden, someone puts a uniform on his back and a game begins. There isn't as much teaching of the game as I'd like. Comments?

Donald R. Soucy: That relates back to the caliber of coaches and managers that the League appoints. Little League Baseball has a coach and managers training program. It's in its infancy--about three years old. The training sessions take place here in Bristol, in the off-season. However, 300 attend and there are about 200,000 coaches and managers in the Eastern Region. So every year you just skim the surface, unfortunately.


Washington, DC: Is it true the Capitol City Baseball league has had several run-ins with the head Little League offices?

Donald R. Soucy: Not any more than any other league within the Eastern Region, because there are very few leagues within Washington, D.C., it just may seem that way.


Bob Levey: More on Little League parents: Do you think there should be some sort of mandatory education program for them, to teach them how to act? Granted, it wouldn't work for some of the "hard cases." But I'd be in favor of anything that produces less screaming and less silly pressure on the kids. Your thoughts?

Donald R. Soucy: That's very difficult, because of the numbers. In the Eastern Region it's 1.7 million parents. Most of them call on Monday morning at 9 a.m. How they act is how their children will act. Therefore they need to realize that they're only at a Little League Baseball game, the purpose of which is to teach sportsmanship and teamwork. They should show that in the bleachers.


Bob Levey: Are you noticing the same enthusiasm for baseball among young children as you did, say, ten years ago? I ask because baseball seems to have lost ground in the popularity wars to football and basketball.

Donald R. Soucy: I can only speak for the Eastern Region. Our charter numbers and those participating have increased over the last 2-3 years. We now have 900,000 children playing softball and baseball in the East with almost 300,000 adult volunteers. Soccer is being played year-round, but so is baseball. There are many more sports programs, including other baseball programs, that children can choose. The key is that they choose something.


Bob Levey: You mentioned that three female players are here this week. But I'm sure some women are reading this chat and thinking, "Why aren't there more?" Do you think some day there will be, or is Little League too forbidding to many girls?

Donald R. Soucy: Many females today are playing softball. And colleges are providing scholarships to females who play softball very well. Because of that, it's possible that fewer females will opt for softball over baseball. I don't expect the small number of girls playing baseball to increase because of the growing popularity of Little League Softball, which is growing in the East about 8-10 percent a year.


Bob Levey: How many children playing in Bristol this week will play in the major leagues some day?

Donald R. Soucy: Probably two to three.


Bob Levey: I hate to single out Little League as the place where parents go craziest. In fact, the closest I've ever seen to a fist fight between parents was between two Moms (!) at a soccer game. Do you think Little League has gotten a bum rap because of the phrase "Little League parent?"

Donald R. Soucy: Little League at times does get a bum rap. The reason being it's big, it's visible, and it's an easy target. However, the term "soccer moms" began with soccer.


Bob Levey: Whenever I watch a baseball game, or a highlight show, there's some player going berserk at some umpire--spitting in his face, shouting obscenities at him. Yet Little League players don't ever seem to do that, even though they "learn" from TV in other ways. Why have you had such good luck this?

Donald R. Soucy: Sheer luck.


arlington, va: Think the whole LLB experience is great....only concern i have is that 12 year olds are throwing curves and other big league pitches with arms that are not fully developed yet. i have heard many stories of kids ruining their arms before they ever get to high school.your thoughts please...tks kgf

Donald R. Soucy: Good question. Frankly, there is nothing damaging about throwing a curve ball if it's taught properly. Unfortunately most managers and coaches, Little League or otherwise, have no idea how to teach a young arm to throw a curve ball. That's part of our training and development program done here at the Giamatti Center in the off-season.


Bob Levey: Don, there's a new rule this year at Bristol: every child who comes here has to play at least one half inning in the field, or bat at least once. Why did you institute this rule? In other sports, especially at this level, kids understand that they may not play at all.

Donald R. Soucy: I have been looking for this for the last four years. Every child that is chosen for an all-star team attends practices, misses vacations and meals, and should not sit the bench for the entire game. The International Tournament Committee in Williamsport recognized this and instituted this rule for 1999. It's not going away, and it may be enhanced in the future. Little League Baseball is just a small part of life. Its purpose is to teach teamwork and playing the entire team is part of that process.


Stonington, Ct.: Here is Connecticut, the father of a young man rejected by his coaches for a spot on a Babe Ruth all-star team filed a lawsuit for damages against the league and the coaches personally. Is there any precedent for such a suit? And what does it say about organized children's sports today? Have things gotten too intense and competitive?

Donald R. Soucy: Children's sports are more intense than when I was growing up. But we also had fewer lawyers. My theory is that parents are afraid for their children to fail. There's nothing wrong with failure. The key is that we teach our children how to handle failure and go on from there to help them succeed.


Bob Levey: How much training does Little League do of its coaches?

Donald R. Soucy: There are a number of local leagues that do a pretty good job of training their coaches. However, many don't. Those are the ones that we need to inform about our training sessions here in Bristol. We offer a day and a half for coaches and managers, all day Saturday and half a day on Sunday. It's called the Al and Al Clinic. It's run by a tag-team of professional baseball teachers and technicians (both named Al). Anyone who attends is overwhelmed with the knowledge that they can bring back to their local league. (It costs $30 including four meals.)


Bob Levey: Since you mentioned lawyers, and since I live in a city where they're everywhere, tell the truth: Are lawyers worse Little League parents than people with other occupations?

Donald R. Soucy: No, marketing people can be tough too.


Bob Levey: In the Washington area (and I'm sure elsewhere, too), there was a tremendous disparity between teams this season. Some were excellent; some were hopeless. Yet all played in the same leagues and playoffs. Wouldn't it be better to "seed" Little Leagues so teams don't win or lose by scores of 30-0.?

Donald R. Soucy: Obviously we would prefer all of the games to be competitive, but sometimes life is not fair. We need to teach our children how to lose with class and how to win with grace. And when the winners and losers get together, you'll never be able to tell the difference.


Bob Levey: Please promise me that there will never be a players' union in Little League, never be an umpires union, never be an owner like George Steinbrenner. Deal?

Donald R. Soucy: I can assure you that I will not the attorney for the players' union and all of our umpires are volunteers who don't get paid so they don't need a union.


Bob Levey: Half an hour remaining from Bristol, Conn., with our guest, Don Soucy. Keep those questions coming!


washington, dc: You mentioned that softball is why girls don't play little league baseball. I think that this is largely true, however it is not the only reason. I played one little league baseball for one year when I was in 3rd grade. The attitude of the league coaches made the experience terrible. The other coaches would tease my coach for having a girl on his team, he would ridicule me for acting "like a girl", and refused to put me in the game. I got up to bat once in the whole season -chicken pox caused a shortage of players-I hit a triple, but was still not put in the rest of the season. Is there any program to train coaches to treat their boy and girl players equally?

Donald R. Soucy: As mentioned before, we have training program for coaches and managers but not everyone attends. It addresses issues of color and gender. I'm guessing that you played some years ago. The softball program is about half the size of the baseball program, however, it's growing 8-10 percent a year whereas baseball is closer to 1-2 percent. The education of the coaches and managers is key to how they view girls playing baseball. Little League Baseball is working diligently to reach as many coaches and managers with training as possible.


Arlington: I'm not really much of a baseball fan, soccer is my game. But, I know that in soccer for sure many people lament the fact that kids don't get to just go out and play pickup games in the park like we did when we were growing up. Do you think there's been a decline in baseball also of kids just going to the park, making up their own rules and just playing? Is a lack of this unsupervised play for the love of the game and time for just being with friends a problem? How can it be addressed in this day and age of parents over scheduling their kids and worrying that there's a kidnapper behind every tree?

Donald R. Soucy: I think that parents shouldn't try to have their children play every sport imaginable. They should concentrate on one or two. The cream will always rise to the top, and if the child is an athlete, he or she will be an athlete. There is a decline in pick-up games, but I really believe the reason reverts back to the liability issue that Little League has as well as park departments, schools, etc., we're all worried about the potential liability.


Washington, DC: How, exactly, does a person get to become a Little League Coach? I am a woman in my late twenties who is passionate about baseball, and I'd love to be able to participate in some fashion.

Donald R. Soucy: Give us a call at the Eastern Regional Headquarters: 860-585-4730. We will give you the names of several league presidents in your area who would love to have a new volunteer.


Fairfax, Virginia: Are you planning on heading up to Williamsport for the Little League World Series?

Donald R. Soucy: As soon as a team wins on Thursday August 19, I will place them on the bus Friday morning and follow it into Williamsport. That's when I become the East's loudest cheerleader. Watch for the Eastern Regional championship game on ESPN Thursday evening at 8 p.m.


Falls Church, VA: Since LLB is so international now,do you know how many countries are represented these days at the LLB World Series? Used to be only Taiwan. Are teams from S. Korea, Mexico. Dom. Rep., and Japan also showing up? What about Cuba? Are they allowed to participate?

Donald R. Soucy: The countries sending teams for 1999 will be Germany, Puerto Rico (not a country, of course), Japan, and Canada. Currently four teams are chosen from the international group. The above won the respective regions.


D.C.: Who can attend the managers and coaches training sessions, and how does one apply.

Donald R. Soucy: Give us a call at the Eastern Regional Headquarters: 860-585-4730.


Bob Levey: As soon as the kids on the D.C. team won the right to come to Bristol, they were talking about being on ESPN (the network will televise the final game here next Thursday). Are you worried about putting kids this age on TV? That's a ton of pressure for kids so young, don't you think? On the other hand, the kids all seem eager to "strut their stuff," so maybe I'm just an old, over-cautious grump. Your vote?

Donald R. Soucy: Actually, there's more pressure on the parents. The kids handle it very, very well. I suppose they're used to it because each team gets a tour of ESPN and parents do not. I have witnessed ten minutes after the game, both teams are playing ping pong together, and the parents are replaying the game in the parking lot. The kids are having more fun.


D.C.: Why is it necessary to create an all star team to compete in the Little League Worlds Series, instead of a teams that have been successful in their areas staying together and competing as a team.

Donald R. Soucy: With just one team, you're only serving that one team. With an all-star team you're serving an entire league. Little League is about inclusion, not exclusion.


Bob Levey: Why, how and when was Bristol chosen for the Eastern Regional tournament?

Donald R. Soucy: Several states wanted the headquarters in their state. All made presentations to the Board of Directors of Little League Baseball in 1988. Bristol's was chosen. Thankfully, as I live here.


Bob Levey: Here at Bristol, the players for all 12 teams live in one compound all week long. Two questions: Do kids from one team make friends with kids from other teams, or do they act hostile to one another? And how many filth-encrusted socks do you find in the dorms at the end of the tournament?

Donald R. Soucy: The kids have to basically, eat, sleep, and play against each other. They become great and lasting friends. And even some of the parents do the same. We probably could start our own sock factory with the leftovers, none of which match.


Bob Levey: My son often asks me about my own Little League career. It was hardly legendary. Back in my day, kids were lumped into one league, whether they were 8 or 12. I played one season, when I was 8. I batted something like 30 times and never touched the ball. I either walked or struck out. I never even hit a foul! Obviously, cooler heads prevailed, and Little League is now split-- younger kids in one division, older in another. Is it working well? And should it be further split, so 12-year-olds play only with and against other 12-year-olds? wiklderpoun

Donald R. Soucy: In the major division, a local league does not have to structure their program nine to twelve, they could do it 11 to 12 and nine and tens play minors. However, there are many leagues that need those nines and tens to have a program at all. Several areas in the Eastern Region have just three to four major league teams. The problem with just using age is there are some very talented nine-year-olds who are head and shoulders (except for size) over 12-year-olds.


Washington, DC: As a former umpire at the Eastern Regional Tournament and many district and state ones, I'm fairly familiar with the little league process. I'm curious as to the population rules regarding the number of teams in towns and things like that. My hometown--a small one--never really has a chance against some of the bigger places.

Donald R. Soucy: The population restriction is 20,000 people. However, if a league has six major league teams and the town exceeds 20,000 we would not require them to split into two charters.
You have to look at more than population. You have to look at the size of the program. If it exceeds ten major league teams, then we would more than likely require them to split into two charters. I somewhat agree that there is a disparity between the larger and smaller programs, however I'm more concerned with the regular season than I am with all-stars, as it serves far more children.


Bob Levey: Don, we've got only about ten minutes left in the show and four hours until the DC team plays its first game. Give me some straight-from-the-shoulder advice about how a certain fat father should try to relax and enjoy all this. I have to confess I'm already chewing on what's left of my stomach lining, big-time.

Donald R. Soucy: Why don't you sit with me and I'll keep telling you over and over again, "It'll be all right." And it will be.


Cary, NC: My brother coaches girls softball in a recreation league. He wins most of his games so he has last pick in the draft each year. His method is to teach the right techniques and practice, practice, practice. Some of the parents from other teams are trying to limit the amount of practice. Have you heard of such a thing?

Donald R. Soucy: There are overzealous coaches in Little League or in your recreation program just like anywhere else. The important thing is that we place the proper individual in front of our children, whether it be teachers, coaches, or managers.


D.C.: Thank you for taking time out for this dialog. It's been very informative. Is there literature available deal with the Official Rules, History, and general information etc..
Good Luck to the US representative.

Donald R. Soucy: We have a web site: www.littleleague.org It will answer your questions.


Bob Levey: Playing in a big-time championship like this has to be a lifelong memory for any player. Do you ever hear from former Bristol participants? Do they say they're 35 years old and still dream of having one more at bat in Bristol, against that pitcher from Rhode Island with the nasty slider?

Donald R. Soucy: As a matter of fact, while we were doing this interview, four members of last year's Toms River East American Little League team, who won the 1998 Little League World's Series in Williamsport, were in my office. And as soon as I'm done with this, I'm going to go find them and welcome them back to Bristol. Ironically, I received a package from a mother who was here last year, was thinking about us, and told us what a great time she and her family had. She sent scrapbook of the Toms River championship. Great memories.


Bob Levey: That'll do it for today. Many thanks to our excellent guest, Don Soucy (and go D.C.!). Be sure to join us next Tuesday (and every Tuesday) for "Levey Live." you're also invited to check out our weekly anything-goes show. It's called "Levey Live: Speaking Freely." It appears every Friday from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time.



© 1999 The Washington Post Company


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