(T-G Photo by Jimmy Jones)
The programs are designed to be feeders for the high schools, but their impact will be felt far beyond just providing more continuity and a smoother transition for the young kids being encouraged and groomed for a varsity future.
We should all take the time to thank the administrators and volunteers at Liberty, Community, Harris and Cascade for their efforts.
To take it even one step further, take the time to shake hands and say, "Thank you," to Shane Shoemake, Mark Neill, Josh Hammonds, Bubba Shavers and their staffs who have taken new programs and made them successful from day one due to their dedication to our kids and the sport.
They hold baseball's future in their hands at this level because they have the power to take away, or drive away, your best future players -- or they can serve as an excellent recruiting and training mechanism for players to be successful at the high school level and beyond.
I have had the opportunity to witness most of these schools in action on several occasions and there is no doubt in my mind that these programs are on the right track.
(T-G Photo by Jimmy Jones)
Neill was secure enough to surround himself with very capable assistants in Tommy Yoes and Kevin Grissom, two guys who could be head coaches.
Yoes and Grissom have been around Viking baseball for many years and, in particular, around this core group of players since tee ball.
Shoemake lives, sleeps and breathes baseball year-round and is one of the driving forces behind the scenes that helped make middle school baseball happen not only at Liberty but throughout the area.
Assistant Rusty Reed and Shoemake were instrumental in Liberty's successful debut last season and have improved his team immeasurably this year despite the loss of several key players.
Shoemake prefers to do his coaching and instructing during practice sessions and let his kids apply what they learn about the game between the lines. If he feels the need to instruct, it is in the dugout, not at the top of his voice during the game and in front of the fans.
As a parent and fan, I am deeply appreciative of coaches who approach the game as a teacher behind the scenes as opposed to those that think we all came out to see them coach or show off their knowledge by critiquing every play or call made in every game.
Hammonds not only has a similar style at Cascade, but has further illustrated that success follows with it.
He has quietly developed some very good talent and also has a winning record to show for his efforts.
One of the benefits of having a middle school baseball program is that young kids can be groomed for a future with a high school program years before they ever reach that level by being taught its coaches' exact same philosophies and styles.
Shelbyville Central coach Brad Frasier, Cascade's Chris Parker and Josh Burrahm of Community have taken notice of the jobs done by their counterparts. They frequently visit games and practices to see the work being done for the future of their programs.
(T-G Photo by Danny Parker)
The increased interest generated by the middle school teams will benefit not just the high school programs, but we should see a marked improvement in enrollment as well as increased competitiveness in the Babe Ruth leagues as well as the travel teams which grow in numbers each season.
The rapid deterioration of Babe Ruth participation in our area vividly illustrates the need for a quality, high school oriented, teaching league that demonstrates a commitment by people who have knowledge of basic baseball fundamentals; that forget about politics and just giving players playing time and positions; that allow players to develop at their own pace; and combine younger and older players to develop competition and peer pressure.
One can only hope that the Babe Ruth officials are astute enough to actively recruit the middle school coaches to join their coaching rosters.
Look for our local teams to advance significantly further during the summer league all-star tournaments in the coming years thanks to the influx of talent and enhanced skills coming from the middle school programs.
If winning is a learned trait, then Hammonds, Neill, Shavers and Shoemake are teaching habits that prepare the high school players of tomorrow with a better knowledge of the varsity game and the discipline required to become a student athlete.
We could not have put our kids in better hands.
Jimmy Jones is a Times-Gazette sports writer. Send comments to email@example.com .