Category Archives: Child’s Play

Paying Tribute to an Umpire, a Volunteer — a Dad

The community of Gig Harbor lost one of the good ones on April 5.

Alec Douglas left us far too soon at the young age of 34, leaving behind many family members, including his two children, daughter, Callie, and son, Dane.

I had the good fortune to first meet Alec by chance three years ago, while serving as manager for a AA Gig Harbor Little League team. One of the tasks at the younger-age teams is having to draft the team fresh each year, and with that comes the often mind-boggling task of rating hundreds of kids during a daylong turnout.

You get a few minutes to watch a child catch, throw, hit and run and the only sane way to maintain some sense of judgment is to ignore the names and faces and reduce it to a game of numbers. During that time in 2008, I saw one particular 9-year-old that I had not taken notice of in previous years. Unlike many of the other kids running around the field, his demeanor was all about work and his face showed a focus and determination I didn’t see elsewhere on the field. That was Dane.

It was an easy choice to place him at the top of my list and when I was fortunate enough to draw the first pick in the draft, Dane became the top draft choice. At that time I had no idea I was also drafting an experienced umpire in his dad, to our team. How fortunate that turned out to be.

As another manager noted recently, Alec was never one to say no, so when I asked if he would help out with the team, he jumped right in.

At the end of a very fun season of baseball, Alec and I agreed to team up together to coach a AAA team the following year. But those plans fell through when I was passed over to be a manager the next season. Our two sons drifted to different teams and we crossed paths only occasionally when Alec would ump a game we were playing.

We were reunited again this year when our sons joined the same select team. It was good to catch up with the two of them, and to see how Alec was still deeply involved as a volunteer with umpiring (as well as coaching in youth football).

As both a coach and a parent, it was good to have Alec be a part of the team as he helped fulfill team requirements to umpire games as well as being able to explain to the boys specific calls. But it was also sometimes a bane when he would umpire one of our games, as he always seemed to call his son’s pitches a little tighter than he would other pitchers.

No doubt he did this as part of the routine of most other father/volunteers in giving that little extra effort to assure that he was not favoring his son over others.

Three days before Alec died, we had a scrimmage for our select team with another team in our organization and Alec — of course — volunteered to umpire. I’m no umpire and I don’t know what compelled me to do so, but that day I asked Alec if he wanted some help with me umpiring the bases.

He accepted and gave me the two-minute crash course of umpiring that he took weeks to develop each spring.

He told me I had the tags and bags on 1 and 2 and tags on 3. I nodded affirmatively, not wanting to let on that he’d already lost me as he ran down a quick list of regulations.

He finished by saying there were three rules to abide by, above all else.

“Don’t overrule me and I won’t overrule you,” he started. “And don’t rush to make the call. See it through to the end of the play and then make a call.

“And always remember, once you make a call, stand by it,” he said.

Three days later when word of his passing first reached me, his gameday advice came back to me, his baritone voice still giving those words weight in my head.

This child’s game has often been used as a metaphor for life. And I’ve come to realize in the days since, how Alec’s words reach far beyond the game of baseball.

And so I tell you, from the limited perspective I have from the few short years I’ve known Alec, he will truly be missed by all those involved in Gig Harbor youth sports. I feel privileged and honored to have had the chance to get to know Alec and Dane. And I look forward to watching Dane’s progress as he continues to grow and develop in the Gig Harbor youth sports world.

That’s my call and I stand by it.

Ric Hallock is managing editor of Gig Harbor Life and has coached youth baseball, football and soccer since moving to Gig Harbor in 2004.

I Keep Muttering, ‘I’m Too Old for This’

“Oh, dear sweet Mother Mary and Joseph, not again!”

Would that my knees, ankles, shins, feet, thighs, elbows, shoulders, biceps and back could all but speak — that would be their collective lament. What could possibly have my body wailing in protest so loud you can actually hear it?

One word: softball.

Funny — looking at the word sitting there so smugly and cuddly looking on the screen — one wouldn’t think a word containing “soft” and “ball” (even babies and puppies love to play with a ball) could also entertain such thoughts as pulled muscles, bruised bones, torn tendons and lacerated ligaments.

OK, for the sake of full disclosure, I’ve only suffered about half of the above — but really, isn’t that enough?

Last season it seemed I injured some new muscle set hitherto unknown to me before playing each game. And unlike the days of youth, instead of taking a day to recover — it took me the better part of the week to be able to walk like a normal human once more — just in time for the next game and a whole new series of painful lessons. Good thing we didn’t practice during the week or I’d have been unable to muster the strength to make it to a game at all.

I attended the first practice of the new Gig Harbor Church Softball League season last night and afterward I walked and moved something akin to Abe Vigoda playing the role of Frankenstein — after aging another decade. My ever supportive bride scoffed at my slow shuffle from room to room, saying “it was just a practice.” My young son — who just wrapped up his Little League baseball season — just delighted in counting my errors.

Hmph. No respect for the old man. And I place the emphasis on “old.”

Without giving it away, let’s just say I’m fast approaching a milestone bithday and really only have one more on the horizon before I settle into the sunset years.

It’s been a long, tough battle between mind and body — but lately I’ve found the arguments being put forth by my aging frame to hold sway. For years, I fought the notion that I could no longer move like I did when I was 20. I could see it in my mind, so surely I could manifest it in my body. And the mind will play tricks on you — working in tandem with your body to make you believe you still have the grace and speed of a carefree youth — despite the decades of working a job where the only muscle action is to reposition my butt in the chair to keep from creating a permanent cushion indentation.

Like the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief, I went through the usual litany: Denial (I’m every bit as strong and agile as I was 10 years ago, 20 years, 30 …); Anger (#@&*! I know I’m as strong and agile as I was 20 years ago, etc.); Bargaining (please, please, please I’ll give up Dr. Pepper forever if I can only throw the ball from second to first without bouncing it); to Depression (OK, so I bounce the ball to first, but at least it gets there).

And now I’ve hit the final stage: acceptance. My days of running between the bases without something snapping, popping or tearing are over.

It’s been a difficult battle, but the body has won out. I concede. The white flag is flying. But what my body doesn’t realize is that my mind is only conceding the battle — not the war. Sure, I’ll admit it — I can no longer play the game as I did in my youth. But I will not give up trying to play. Ha!

That is, at least until this Sunday, when we open the season with a double-header. I may be singing an entirely new tune by Sunday night.

K-9 Units at Peninsula Area High Schools Pass the Sniff Test

Peninsula School District is going to the dogs … to sniff out illicit narcotics.

The area’s three high schools — Gig Harbor, Peninsula and Henderson Bay — will begin getting random visits by a drug-detecting K-9 unit from either the Gig Harbor Police Department or the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, looking for the identifiable odor of drugs. According to a school district official, the dogs won’t be checking students, but will roam halls, lockers and parking lots. When the dog alerts to an area, the school principal will be notified.

A first-time offense will result in a 15-day suspension (and hopefully some counseling and follow-up, although that wasn’t made clear) and a second offense would warrant a more harsh response.

A story like this quickly separates people into one of two camps:

It’s a Good Thing: Drugs may be prevalent in our society, but they have no place in public schools. Although this kind of proactive measure won’t eliminate drugs entirely from school campuses or even change the nature of the drug culture, it does send the message to users and dealers that school grounds should be like the signs say at the school entrances: A drug-free zone. And if a kid doesn’t have drugs at school, they have nothing to fear.

It’s a Bad Thing: Bringing drug dogs in is one more step in eroding our basic human rights. This isn’t a case of investigating a specific report of someone carrying drugs; it’s more a dragnet attempt that will only serve to nab the small-time recreational drug user. The dogs aren’t trained to alert to many drugs out there so the result will be minimally effective at best. It just moves the drug problem to another location.

As a parent of two students who will soon be roaming the halls of high school, I must say I tend to agree more with the former, with just a smidgeon of the latter.

I don’t kid myself: This one gesture won’t halt the drug use that is common in our kids’ culture. But it does show that the district isn’t just paying lip service when they say they have a zero tolerance of drugs. It is, indeed, a proactive stance to establish the schools as a safe zone designed for learning — not dealing or using.

Critics charge that the lessons of drug use fall upon the parents. Most assuredly it does. But it shouldn’t stop there. Schools see our children for more waking hours than the parents during the week, so any influence the schools can add to support the message of the parents is only going to help. And for some students who don’t get or have the parental support, the message the school imparts may be the only positive message to stay away from drugs that they hear.

But this isn’t just a message that drugs are bad. It’s a life lesson that there can be consequences for the actions you take. Want to carry your stash to class in your backpack? Then you risk a suspension, a possible arrest and more.

The hardest lesson to teach your child is to allow them to make a wrong decision and then face the consequences that result. But it often results in the best lasting effect. Now before you write in, I’m not advocating you let your child try drugs. I’m saying that we can’t always coddle/protect our children from the big, bad world out there. If we want them to be functioning, capable humans, then as some point we must equip them with the tools to make choices on their own, as well as teach them to accept the results that follow those choices.

As parents, we’ve been teaching the lesson about drugs  to our kids since they were tiny — using each opportunity as a teaching moment to point out the dangers/follies/idiocy of drug use. But we also teach our children to be true to their own self — to learn to make decisions on their own. And with self-reliance comes ownership of your choices and the consequences.

Will my children choose to try drugs? Maybe, maybe not. But even if one of them does, I hope that at that moment my words come echoing through their brain and they make the right choice.

In the meantime, I applaud the school district and the law enforcement agencies for taking a proactive stance in helping parents to send home the message in a clear and visible way: Drugs and their use have no place in our schools.

Parental Ideals Don’t Die, They Just Evolve With Reality

With few standing exceptions, most parents have high-minded ideals when they have children, hoping to instill a sense of new-found freedom and unbridled imagination in helping to shape the next generation’s Indira Gandhi or Thomas Edison. To help unleash the untapped potential surrounding their children, they establish by-and-large traditional — yet radical — rules to control the environment surrounding the tots as their youthful charges are slowly exposed to the world around them.

You know the ones, things like: “They will ingest no sugary sweets or drinks” and “They will only hear classical music.”

I, too, had high ideals when my children were still captivated by my ability to “disappear” behind my hands in a classic round of peek-a-boo. But in the seeming blink of an eye those cherubs have morphed into preteens on the verge of hitting ages 12 and 10 and I find myself looking back (with some healthy chagrin) at the many values and ideals lying strewn about in our past like cheap dollar-store toys the day after Christmas.

An apt example of an ideal gone AWOL was that television would not dominate our waking hours and never serve as a babysitter. To be sure, a hour or so of public television, with an occasional dabbling of Discovery channel a week would be the limit (notwithstanding a good ballgame or two). This bastion of parental rules in our abode has, over time, given way to not only non-stop SpongeBob marathons, but by the youngest even recording episodes for all posterity on DVDs, so the one half-hour in a week when SpongeBob is not actually being broadcast, he can still be found filling our TV screen with lemon-yellow joy.

In defense of many other parents who have succumbed similar high-minded ideals for the reality of everyday life: We don’t give up these rules lightly or in sudden bursts of apathy. Instead, they are eroded over time like a gentle meandering stream that ever so slowing eats away at the shore, until the next thing you know, you are staring at the Grand Canyon — your heartfelt ideal but a wispy glint on the far shore, evermore out of reach.

I realized another of those ideals had melted from my grasp this past weekend as I sat on the back stoop with my boys shooting at pop cans in the yard with a pellet gun.

Yes, their mother and I didn’t favor military toys and vowed not to have toy weaponry in the house. Anyone who has a male child will know instantly how utterly futile this ideal is in reality. Before they could even walk, a pencil, a twig or even their hand would easily make do for a weapon in any given instant. The very first Lego construction ever made by the oldest was that of a gun. Over time, the influence of “Toy Story” brought the ubiquitous bag of army men into the house, followed by policemen Halloween costumes complete with handcuffs and batons.

Unless you shelter your children like a religious zealot in the desert, then you know the kids have friends — and those friends have video games that feature more ways to kill people than Hollywood could ever imagine or depict. And despite your best admonishment that they play outdoors when visiting friends, that just means — according to youthful wisdom — that the PSP and Gameboys be used under the shade of a tree. And what kid doesn’t play with a squirt gun in the summer? Did I say squirt gun? I mean those high-tech devices that fire off long streams of water like a fire hose.

This, of course, leads to Nerf weaponry of every kind — that shoot soft, foam “bullets” and “missiles” with some degree of aiming ability. And a Nerf gun is really just an air-propelled pellet gun sans the spring-loaded velocity and tiny ammo– which is exactly what we found ourselves shooting off as we spent some down time on our back porch.

That’s when it hit me — like a pellet shot square in the middle of a Dr. Pepper logo — another erstwhile ideal had been gunned down,  lying DOA on the back steps.

And like the woeful parent who’s child has just slain 20 nuns and orphans during the International Peace to Every Living Thing parade and then states on worldwide TV, “But he’s a good boy,” I kept the blinders firmly in place and refused to see the carnage of another ideal down the drain. Instead, I took heart in the unexpected “good” I found in the moment.

The oldest, a self-proclaimed “expert” at hitting moving targets, was having some degree of difficulty in putting a dent in any cans. His younger brother, who had to this point never been allowed to fire off a pellet gun, was reluctantly given the opportunity (the reluctance coming from both myself and his sibling). With little fanfare, he fired a single round and a can 30 feet away dropped. He cocked the gun a second time, aimed anew and a second can 40 feet away fell over. But being only winged, this can fell but stayed atop the tree stump it rested upon. A third shot pushed it off the stump. All while his older brother pumped several rounds into the weeds around these cans, mumbling about “wind interference” and the other gun being “better.”

I just smiled and took heart that in his ever-growing litany being a future, expert violinist/engineer/mathematician/astronaut, I could now add marksman.

A Little Fanfare for the Secret That is PYO

There’s a well-kept secret in Gig Harbor that deserves a shout out for the good they provide the community.

Peninsula Youth Orchestra has been serving the region’s youth (From Tacoma to Port Orchard) providing stringed instrument opportunities since 1998. The organization started when a handful of dedicated volunteers wanted to meet a need that wasn’t being fulfilled by the school districts in either Peninsula or South Kitsap. Although the districts have band, there was no place for youth to learn and play orchestra-style music.

Thanks to PYO, this is no longer the case, as they take in students both experienced and brand new, providing musician development through four levels of experience and age groupings with a school-year program and a summer string camp.

PYO hosted its first official performance of the 2009-10 school year with its winter concert at Peninsula High School on Saturday, Jan. 30. This was the group’s first time in the high school auditorium as they have outgrown previous performance spaces. Executive Director Paula Vander Poel told the audience that the first years they were lucky to play to 50 people in the audience. Saturday’s crowd was in the hundreds.

For many of the participants (ranging in age from 8 to 18) this was their first time on a stage under the lights with an audience. Nerves may have been in high gear, but you wouldn’t have known it by the performance. All four groups: Debut, Encore, Junior and Youth orchestras each took the stage, demonstrating how they’ve grown from learning how to properly hold and play an instrument to playing complex, moving pieces.

The organization is funded through community support and a tuition-based program. Partial and full scholarships for some are made possible thanks to the donations of sponsors.

Music education, sadly, is being underserved in many communities across the country — and the current economic conditions of budget cuts and staff layoffs mean more music programs that have thus far survived still find themselves endangered. A national study released last year was among the first to quantify the music knowledge level of eighth-grade students and the data is disheartening, to say the least.

In the findings:

Only 57 percent of eighth-graders attended schools where music instruction was offered at least three or four times a week.

Eight percent attended schools where no music instruction was offered.

Just over one-third (34 percent) of eighth-graders participated in one or more musical activities in school.

Only 5 percent of students reported playing in an orchestra in school.

At a fundamental level, music provides a young mind a better understanding of both mathematics and science, as well as learning cooperation and discipline. At a deeper level, it reaches to the very core of being human — we are the only species that creates “music” beyond a need to communicate, but for the more ethereal sense of enjoyment and satisfaction. The creation of and listening to music is a uniquely human endeavor and one that crosses all socio-economic and cultural divides. We may all speak languages that are unintelligible to non-native ears, but anyone can appreciate the lyrical lilting sensibilities of a Mozart minuet or the captivating beat of a jungle drum in Zimbabwe.

Youth who participate in music programs show improved test scores, demonstrate high levels of problem-solving, and a significant number go on to higher education (see: The Importance of Music Education). We understand this, and yet music programs are routinely among the first to be cut from shrinking educational budgets. Why? The best I can figure is that a music program’s benefits cannot be quantified as easily as can a reading or science program. Although much like mathematics in its basic form and compositional structure, music’s real benefits are on an artistic plateau, not so easily defined and measured as they are felt and experienced.

Because music speaks to the soul more than to reason does not justify its elimination in our public schools. But until there is a fundamental shift in how we view our educational system, arts in general — and music in particular — will continue to be silenced for the sake of balancing budgets.

That’s why programs like PYO need and deserve the community’s recognition and appreciation for the quality of music education they provide the region’s youth.

Bravo PYO.

Trouble With Girls Gone Wild – Sports Edition Is the Coaching

Ah, another week, another viral video on the net. This time it is a double header with a college womens soccer game in Utah and a girls high school contest in Rhode Island.

The latter shows the frustration we often see from athletes when the game is already in hand with a playoff berth waiting the winner and a trip home for the loser. What’s sad is that the brief violence on the field — seemingly well handled by the officials, spread to the sidelines and stands. The former is a clip showing a 20-year-old defender from New Mexico bringing the hammer down — literally — to various BYU players has gone worldwide with whole Web sites devoted to either villifying or defending her actions. Some peers in college soccer say she’s only getting this kind of attention because of her gender and that if she were a male, this would not be happening.

I take exception to this, going back to the infamous head butt by French player Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 World Cup contest. His extreme behavior also went viral. It’s not so much the gender as the actions that grab the attention.

Watching the 20-year-old in action, a few things become clear:

1. Her responses were not entirely unprovoked. In the shot of her throwing an elbow into the back on another player you can clearly see she reacting to being elbowed in the stomach. In the instance of her pulling the ponytail of another player, yanking her head back and throwing her to the ground, note that the BYU player is pulling on her uniform. I’m not saying that her actions are justified in any way. But let’s at least give her the benefit of the doubt that she was out to just brutalize other players.

2. There is no clear justification of her  punching a player in the face or when she kicks the ball into the face of another player after a teammate has tripped that player. But again, let’s remember, we are seeing clips, not the entire game, so there may or may not have been prior provocation.

3. Given the style of her play, her remorse following her indefinite suspension isn’t easy to completely accept. An aggressive style of play such as she showed takes time to develop — it doesn’t come out just in the “heat of the competition.” I’m thinking some high school and college coaches along her soccer career might know more about this than they have said.

There is plenty of Internet buzz about the two incidents — evolving into a discussion of what we expect of female vs. male athletes and the form of competition we expect of the genders. But what isn’t being talked about here is what I think is the root of the matter: Not that players are getting more aggressive or brazen, but that youth coaches are allowing that behavior at younger levels — all in the name of competition.

Having coached a variety of (male) youth sports for a number of years now, I can say I’ve seen my share of unsportsmanlike conduct in the way some coaches approach a game. In firsthand experience, I’ve seen coaches try to cheat by using the wrong size ball, heard them tell their players to purposefully try to hurt another player, bad mouth officials using colorful language in front of their players and even break out into a fistfight (that was two coaches on the same team …) in the middle of a game. These are sports at the 8- and 9-year-old divisions — not even close to high school age.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of really good youth coaches out there who every day try to teach the conduct of fair play and good sportsmanship. But I think there is a distinct disconnect in developing good coaches across the board. All you need to be a youth coach is a desire to do the job and the time to be at practice. There is no requisite for experience or moral sense of fair play.

For every youth sport, there are off-season coaching clinics, camps and seminars, but I see few coaches take advantage of these — often because they must foot the bill to attend out of their own pockets. Seldom do I hear of mandatory coaching clinics. Usually, there is one mandatory coach meeting before a season begins. But as a typical example, in Gig Harbor Little League baseball, the mandatory meeting is to go over details about rules and drafting order — everything except good coaching. There is the obligatory speech (usually near the end) about everyone working together for the betterment of the kids, coaching for the players — not for your ego, but you can easily see those good intentions benched early on each season.

I’ve always been a little amazed there isn’t some kind of “coaching” school that youth coaches should be required to pass before being handed their whistle. We require so much of other adults who come into daily contact with our children, such as educators and daycare personnel — yet we are happy to release junior to a virtual stranger for two hours a day over a three or four month period. It’s as if we as parents and those who run leagues are all playing a great big game of Roulette with our children — willing to blindly accept a “bad” coach for a season here and there while wishing for someone better.

Until we modifying the world of youth sports, we shouldn’t find it so surprising to see videos of women soccer players pulling hair and trading punches, upset parents flying out of the stands and sucker punching a ref, or Little League teens going ballistic and head butting an umpire. We are a competitive species living in a competitive society and this sense of competition is drilled into our youth at a very early age. It is unfortunate that in our haste to get the little one to play her best, we are willing to let some unscrupulous coach teach them the underhanded techniques to get that extra edge on the field while masquerading as someone trying to teach them how to properly kick a ball.

Forget Hawks vs. Tides, What About Gig Harbor’s Real Football Rivalry?

For more than three decades now, the crosstown football rivalry has pitted the Peninsula Seahawks against the Gig Harbor Tides in a contest so big that it garners its own name: The Fish Bowl. (The name comes from the benefit side, an annual salmon dinner served before the game that benefits the local fishermen and fleet.) Even though Gig Harbor is 4A and Peninsula is 3A, the non-league game remains big with bragging rights between the blue and green that run deep in the region’s veins. The latest incarnation of the gridiron contest is set to take place tomorrow night (Friday, Oct. 2) at the event’s only home, Roy Anderson Field at PHS, a stadium that is shared by both schools as their home field each football season.

But in my humble opinion, this contest pales in comparison to a matchup that isn’t even part of football reality — yet.

Anyone who is even remotely involved in youth football in Gig Harbor knows there are two leagues to choose from when signing up junior to be the next Peyton Manning. Part of the harbor’s rich history in youth sports is Peninsula Youth Football, well into its third decade in developing football stars of tomorrow. A relative upstart by comparison, the still young Bulldogs Football is in its fourth year of operation. Both leagues field teams from ages 8 to 14 — and both include cheerleader squads so whole families can stay involved.

Both leagues play an eight-game season with extra games included as part of a post-season tournament. Both leagues develop young minds and bodies for the rigors of football that will eventually feed their players into one of the two area high schools. Both leagues bristle with volunteers at all levels willing to help from coaching to cheerleading to recruitment. And just like their high school counterparts, both leagues do not share common opponents beyond each other.

All these similarities end at one very important point: Unlike the Hawks and Tides, PYF and Bulldogs do not play each other for bragging rights to Gig Harbor football.

Having been involved with both programs, I think I’ve gained an insight as to why this might be. As a matter of full disclosure, my son has played three years in PYF and this year is a Bulldog. I’ve been actively involved as well, having coached those same three years in PYF and now coaching as a Bulldog.

As you can well imagine, many of the “adults” involved with PYF don’t want to see this kind of matchup because they don’t want to legitimize the Bulldogs program in any way by acknowledging it (I use the term “adults” loosely because some revert to childlike behavior when it comes to youth sports). There are no doubt detractors for such a match-up in the Bulldogs camp as well, although I must confess, I have not met any of them yet. As you can imagine, those involved in a new league are eager to prove they belong, so many in the Bulldogs organization would welcome such a once-a-year contest.

At the youth level, you better believe the players are well aware of the “other” league. My son has taken his share of ribbing from his former Seahawks teammates for going Bulldog red. I just tell him to point out the difference in the won-loss records of his former and current team.

I joke, but seriously, both programs are filled with players that will one day join together as teammates on the sidelines for either Gig Harbor or Peninsula. Having now been a part of both programs, I have a better view of the youth football world than I did a year ago. Both programs are by-and-large well-run and are filled with adult volunteers who give countless hours to helping players learn and love the game of football. To be sure, both have individuals who detract from the core essence that it is and always should be by and about the youth. But I think you’d be hard pressed to look at any youth sports program anywhere and not find that element.

An annual contest between the leagues could be a good thing for the Gig Harbor community. Like it’s high school counterpart — the Fish Bowl — the games could be built around an annual fundraiser. A nominal admission could be charged and throughout the day, each grade could square off at Roy Anderson Field for bragging rights. A traveling trophy could be created, given that there are five team levels, so each league that wins three or more for a given year would earn the trophy. Non-profits could even earn needed money running concessions for the day-long event.

Granted, there are logistics to be figured out. While the Bulldogs field one team per grade, PYF fields 2-3 per grade. Creating an “all-star” team from PYF would be unfair because those kids wouldn’t have played together through the year. Maybe the PYF teams could alternate years — a Tides team one year and a Seahawks team the next.

Despite the obvious problems (where do you fit this into the calendar) and the sublime ones (those adults who don’t want to see this happen), it is an event that could be put to good use in the community to drive youth sports awareness and community spirit. I can tell you, the players on both sides would love the opportunity to play their school mates.

So how about it, adults? Can we truly act our age long enough to create a Fish Bowl in miniature? Having experienced what each program offers, I can tell you flatly that both leagues teach good values, sportsmanship and determination while also developing a respect and love for the sport of football. I no longer listen to the rumors spread about either as I’ve found it all to be just that — rumors. Let’s get past the pettiness that may have spurred the development of two youth football programs in Gig Harbor, acknowledge that there are and always will be two solid programs for players and parents to choose from, and use this opportunity to create something special and unique for Gig Harbor that involves both programs in a fun and positive fashion.

Lets embrace the competitiveness that is part of having two healthy, growing programs and develop a higher sense of community oneness by using the playing field to bring this all together. We can all feel good about creating more youth participation while raising funds that can be turned back into the community to further help make Gig Harbor a great place to live, work and play football.

I’ve snapped the ball. The question is: Will anyone run with it?

Could School District Save Parents’ $$$ with Bulk Buying?

Like swallows to Capistrano, students and educators have flocked back to area schools to start anew the educational cycle for 2009-10. Preceding the annual return to the hallowed halls is the parents’ annual trek to area stores and malls to meet the demands of the back-to-school supplies necessary to keep the classrooms running efficiently.

Not to sound like the proverbial old coot, but “when I was a kid,” we seldom had to bring more than a notebook of lined paper and a sunny disposition to start a new school year. I remember my teacher even handing me a shiny and unsharpened bright yellow No. 2 on the first day. But tightening budgets and burgeoning classrooms have conspired to create the system we have today, wherein parents must supply the class with many of the necessities that schools routinely supplied in the past.

Today’s student is lacking if she doesn’t bring a box of tissues, crayons, erasers, markers, notebooks, reams of paper, tape, rulers, glue sticks, highlighters, Ziploc bags, hand sanitizers, scissors, calculators, pocket dictionaries and enough pencils to build a bridge that would put the Tacoma Narrows to shame.

What got me to thinking was the demand for reams of paper. I got to wondering just how big the stack of paper would be if you totaled all the students in all the classrooms in all the schools in the Peninsula School District who were asked to bring a ream of paper to start the year. This rather simple query turned into a laborious task of Sisyphian proportions as I took to amassing the school supply lists of the 15 schools in the PSD realm.

The results of my query resulted in four rather cumbersome charts, which can be accessed as PDFs labeled in the following:

psd-09-supplies-per-student (SPS): Shows the supplies needed by each student in each grade, with a total dollar amount per student factored in with the pricing guide.

school Supplies by Grade/School (SGS): Shows totals of each item requested for each grade, based on projected enrollment numbers for 2009-10 posted on the PSD Web site.

psd-09-total-supplies-by-school (TSS): Shows total number of each item requested by each school, with a total for all of the districts eight elementary and four middle schools.

psd-09-supplies-prices (SP): Shows estimated cost of each item, total requested for the school district and the cost to parents based on these amounts.

As a matter of full disclosure, please note there are a number of discrepancies that make this list necessarily incomplete. For one, the high schools are not represented as class supply lists are not posted online. The per-student total is not completely accurate as a number of the supplies can be purchased at different stores for different prices — sometimes for big discounts at some stores. Also, the per-student total can be skewed by unlisted items, i.e. middle school students are required to provide gym clothes and some, locks for a locker, and none of this is incorporated into the cost totals.

Likewise, many parents refuse to purchase the total amount of some items requested, i.e. a student may be asked to bring 10 glue sticks, but a parent supplies three or they opt to not send some of the requested supplies to school at all.

And naturally enough, there is the matter of recycling. Many parents save items from one school year to the next — such as watercolor paints, or reusable items like calculators and rulers — eliminating the need to purchase the item anew each year. The costs per student shown on SPS assume that a parent is buying every item on the list as requested for the new school year.

Now I’m no statistical engineer, so my math and logic is in no way meant to be comprehensive or complete. Rather, this little project  led me to pose the bigger question: Given the distressed economy, could the school district pool the teacher wish lists, purchase the major accoutrement at a discounted bulk rate and save parents a lump sum of cash?

And like any statistical study, interesting facts and heretofore unasked questions come up when the data is laid out side by side.

For example: While most schools require at least one box of Kleenex per student, kids in Goodman Middle School must have particularly runny noses as they are expected to supply 2,196 boxes of tissues for the 549 students — a total of four boxes per student. And kids at Artondale and Purdy elementary schools plan to glue a lot of paper, with both schools expecting more than 3,500 glue sticks, while Evergreen Elementary and Goodman Middle School students will glue nary a dozen pieces of paper together with Evergreen asking for little more than two glue sticks per student and Goodman less than one per student.

And my original question on reams of paper? Students at Harbor Ridge and Voyager didn’t need to weigh their backpacks down on opening day as they were not asked for any reams, while Kopachuck tipped the other end of the scale, requesting 1,112 reams from the 656 students. Districtwide, a whopping 4,355 reams of paper were expected to be collected. With a ream of 20 lb. bond measuring 2 inches deep, that’s a stack of reams topping out at just over 725 feet high. If you were to stack the reams 10 feet high, you would need a closet measuring at least 6.5 feet by 7.5 feet and 10 feet high.

Anyone who has manipulated statistics knows you can create a number or set of numbers to represent just about anything you want. Looking at the numbers, a parent could wonder why a fifth grader at Artondale requires more than $80 in supplies while his counterpart at Minter Creek can meet her needs with less than $20. And do Artondale third-grade and Harbor Heights fourth-grade teachers really expect to go through 60 pencils per student in one school year? (That’s a new pencil for every three school days.)

But that’s not the point here. I’ll leave that kind of number crunching to those of you who feel compelled to look into this further. My point is to the school district. Couldn’t the district, with its buying power, purchase the non-reusable items on the lists each year — say  like the 23,432 glue sticks (parent price of 3 for .99 cents, costs parents $7,732.56), 7,714 Kleenex boxes (.99 each for a total of $7,636.86), and 4,355 reams of paper ($2.99 per ream, $13,021.45)?

The district could recoup the funds by then charging the parents what it paid for each item, so the parents are still footing the supplies bill, but getting the district’s buying clout.

It just seems to me a good starting off point to talk about the district looking to be innovative in ways to help parents meet the needs of the classroom by using its buying power to reduce the overall costs of going back to school. Anyone agree?