Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University and pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeye baseball team from 1971 through 1974.  He furthered his baseball career as a minor league league umpire for seven years, working in the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA).  He has written for numerous websites, and for eight years served as a regular columnist and photo editor for Gettysburg Magazine, published by Morningside Books, in Dayton, Ohio.  Widely knowledgable on that period of American History, Fulks is a frequent speaker on the Civil War at local roundtables throughout the country.  Involved with a number of writing projects, he and wife Mindy have two grown children and live in Covington, Ohio.

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Don’t think for a minute that all high school sports are administered equally.  And if you “are” prone to think that way, please consider baseball.

Over a windy, blustery, sometimes rainy weekend, the question was posed Sunday as to area baseball…and why Press Pros coverage was two weeks behind the start of the average local team’s season. 

When Minster and Bradford hooked up Sunday at Fifth Third Field in Dayton, it marked the 13th game of the year already for the defending Division IV state champs.  And while 10-2 entering that game, Wildcats’ coach Mike Wiss would tell you that the champs are far from being a finished product relative to defending that title. 

They won Sunday, yes.  But you got the impression from watching that they’re hardly ready to face the likes of a Newark Catholic with their season on the line.

The fact of the matter is this.  Halfway through the season, with 13 games behind them, most high school baseball teams are just beginning to round into form…any kind of form.  Pitchers’ arms are still strengthening.  Batting eyes are far from honed.  Instincts are still being formed.  You have to actually play baseball to achieve these things, and 13 games “ain’t” a lot of baseball. 

There’s a reason why major league teams spend seven weeks in spring training and play 30 games to prepare for their own season, and I catch myself thinking all the time…that for the good of the kids who play high school baseball, it would be nice if they could get at least a modicum of the same consideration considering their own level of play.

Of course, to do that the season would have to start no earlier than the 1st of May.  And it would extend through the end of the school year, through graduation, and conclude with the state championships being played over the 4th of July weekend, like they do in other Midwest states.  April would be little more than a month of spring training for athletes to strengthen, stretch out, play meaningful scrimmages, and prepare for actual “championship” play once the season starts.

Think about it:  good weather, better conditioning of athletes, fewer injuries, fewer sore arms and pulled leg muscles, increased attendance…and meaningful summer baseball!  Good for the kids who play, no?  Yes?  And we’re doing this for the kids, right?

There is support for this among coaches around the state, even those with outstanding programs and a history of winning.

“I wouldn’t want to be on record about this,”  said one from southern Ohio last week.  “But the present competitive scenario for high school baseball, compared to football and basketball, is a joke.  Four scrimmages in March tells you nothing about your baseball team.  It does very little for kids in terms of getting them a fair opportunity to perform and compete for playing time.  We’ve actually gone into the tournament draw before having played as few a 12 games.  We’ve actually had a good spring weather-wise this year, but it’s probably the first time in five years.”

That comment came from southern Ohio.  Imagine what they’re saying in northern Ohio, in counties along the lake!

What coaches are saying…what knowledgable baseball people are asking is…for the sake of those who play, why can’t baseball (and softball) be played in the same predictable conditions as other sports?  Football is played in some nasty weather late in the season, for sure, but at least there’s 10 weeks of conditioning leading up to the colder temperatures and wet fields.

They are aware of the rumblings, the mumblings, in Columbus.  Five years OHSAA commissioner Dan Ross and I had this discussion pertaining to other states playing baseball later in the spring, in summer, and how they’re managing it.

“We’re aware of what they’re doing,”  said Ross, an admitted proponent of baseball and competitive fairness.  “And we’re watching their model closely to see if it’s something that would work for us here in Ohio, especially what Iowa’s doing.”

And in Iowa, summer high school baseball has become embraced as a popular, logistical alternative to rainouts and shortened seasons.  Bottom line, they do it for the sake of fairness to the kids who play, said one IHSAA official when asked in 2008.  “Baseball means as much to them as football and basketball means to the kids who play those sports,”  he said.

Well and good, you’d think.  But how long do you look at a model before you see the obvious benefits, or implement them? 

We mentioned there’s support from coaches?  There’s also opposition from administration traditionalists who say that having summer baseball would mean additional expense, extended school schedules, and an added strain on already-thin administrative manpower.

But hey, if this argument was over a popular “revenue” sport like football, do you think it would have taken five years of watching the model?

“Put it this way,”  said that same southern Ohio coach.  “It’s the age-old issue.  I’ve been here 13 years, and I’ve heard the same arguments for 13 years.  If I’m here another 13 years I wouldn’t promise anything different.”

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