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Legion: A Game Once Taken Seriously

June 16, 2011
By SHAWN RINE - Sports Editor , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING - As a society, and even more so as a state, collectively we don't seem to be a fan of change. The rationale is, if it's been this way for so long and it's still working, why change things up just for the sake of doing so?

Truthfully there are folks out there who just can't adapt to the ever-changing, fast-pace way of life. But sometimes those making the most noise actually have a point.

I probably fall somewhere in between. While I have no issue with betterment, there are times when it's best to leave well enough alone.

Case in point, American Legion baseball.

If you haven't been to a game recently, allow me to save you the following: time, effort, and gas money. While realizing this may upset some - the few real baseball men left - the legion game as we know it today is flat-out awful. Seriously, take a look at the box scores in your paper and call me when you see one that doesn't have at least four errors.

In sports, expansion is seen as a watering down of the product. That's precisely what has happened in the case of American Legion.

I haven't been in the business forever - 13 years in Oct. - but I remember when the rosters of these clubs was the elite, the cream of the crop in terms of the Ohio Valley. These days, if you have a pair of cleats and your own glove you're not only welcomed to participate, but often times you're downright necessary in terms of fielding a team.

There are currently seven legion teams locally, with four of those - Cadiz, Toronto, Steubenville and Richmond - all calling the same geographical area home. Again, this isn't meant to be mean, but you can't tell me there are enough elite players in the Jefferson County area to warrant four teams.

And when I talk about 'elite,' I'm referring to kids who either are currently, or will be playing at a big-time Division-I college, with a legitimate chance at getting drafted.

Yeah, those guys don't roll through here very often any more.

So where's the problem? Well, part of it rests on the parents who think little Jimmy is good enough to play Legion, rather than Colt league where he belongs. Kids are getting thrust into situations they're not ready for, both physically and mentally, at too early an age and the product is suffering.

You know the type of mom and dad, and you probably have heard something like this: My son, Jimmy, just made the American Legion team and has a chance to start. All the while in the back of your mind this is going on: Yeah, that's great. Nevermind the fact the kid could not hit or field if his life depended on it, and the only way he'll get on the field is if the four guys in front of him at that position break their legs.

But those are parents for you.

They aren't entirely to blame, though. The fact is, playing American Legion baseball doesn't carry the same weight with kids anymore. It used to be an honor, not something to do between trips to the beach.

As a writer, I can't tell you how many times during the years I've shown up to cover a game and had a manager say 'we're starting a pretty different lineup than the last time you were here because we've got four kids on vacation at the same time.'

Whatever happened to the days when a family's vacation was going out of town with the team to various tournaments? Now we've got a single kid going to the beach for senior trip, returning for two weeks and then hitting the waves again with his parents. Not to mention the ones headed to Jamboree in the Hills - yes, that is a common occurrence.

It's time we all faced the fact that Legion, if it's not dead already, will die a slow, complete death sometime in the next 10 years. Either that, or they'll start allowing Bronco-aged kids to play, which for all intents and purposes is the same thing.

North-South Games

This will be a big weekend for local prep stars in the state of West Virginia as the annual North-South All-Star Games take place Friday and Saturday in the state capital.

Wheeling Park boys' basketball coach Michael Jebbia leads a formidable group that includes two of his own Patriots standouts, Bubby Goodwin and Marqez O'Neal. Friday's game will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the South Charleston Community Center and will be preceded by free-throw shooting, 3-point shooting, and slam dunk contests.

Saturday the action shifts to Laidley Field for the battle on the gridiron, headlined locally by three state champions.

Magnolia's Matt Riggs and Traeh Keller will wear the colors of Class AA champion Blue Eagles, while Class A winner Wheeling Central will be represented by Aaron Schneid.

Huff Award winner Ryan Lazear from Class AAA runner-up Brooke is a member of the team, along with Tyler Consolidated's Issac Graham and Wheeling Park's Zach Morris.

Nailers Tidbits

Look for some news soon on the player-signing front. Despite the fact Wheeling's season ended just a little more than a month ago, the ECHL allows teams to begin signing players for the 2011-2012 season, beginning today.

Thanks to Mark Landini for the heads-up.

Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at

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