As youngsters, we rarely considered the time and effort that went into running the machine pitch baseball teams we played for, much less the work it took getting us runts to play a remotely coherent seven innings. Looking at expansive youth athletics organizations like Fox-Rok Athletics Association, one wonders what has made this community staple tick for nearly 60 years.
Fox-Rok AA corresponding secretary Ken Warner says that there is more to building a successful organization than might even come to mind for most. While some could be considered obvious, it’s those that are most significant.
“Without volunteers, we wouldn’t have an organization,” Warner admits. “You need to have community support.”
Warner remembers when he joined Fox-Rok’s board of directors as both their secretary and later webmaster. He reminds anyone new to the organization that everything they need is on the Fox-Rok website.
“They weren’t computer savvy and I happened to be at the time,” Warner recalls. “They had a lack of communication that maybe they didn’t realize. Written and oral communications is key today.”
According to Warner, there is even more at stake when getting a community athletics organization to operate effectively.
“You have to have a financial backing. It’s outrageous what this all costs us,” affirms Warner.
Warner says that Fox-Rok receives a good amount of its funding from local business sponsors. Some of which place their advertisements on team uniforms, according to Warner. While Fox-Rok girls softball coach Jon Doherty agrees, he also thinks that there is even more that contributes to a successful community sports club.
“On a board or director level, every question boils down to what’s good for the kids,” Doherty says. “It doesn’t come down to money, egos or agendas from certain people. We just ask ourselves, ‘What’s good for the kids?’ That’s what always has driven the organization and we’ve done well with that.”
Doherty mentions that Fox-Rok’s process of grooming and selecting coaches, board members and volunteers has contributed to much of the club’s longevity. Fox-Rok even hosts a program that trains driven players from as young as 13-years-old to coach when they come of age, according to Warner.
“We really take our time and what I do in the years when they come through tee ball and coach pitch I get to see just
about every coach,” says Doherty. “We’re doing a filtering system for our coaching.”
He believes that when the kids come first, everything else falls into place. It’s that philosophy that has driven Fox-Rok into being a club that draws in members from even neighboring Northeast neighborhoods, according to parent Greg Riley.
An Oxford Circle native, Riley’s community was no longer offering youth sports by the time his daughter wanted to play softball, which lead him elsewhere.
“Fox-Rok was recommended by a lot of different people that we know,” says Riley. “So, I made a few phone calls and even though we didn’t have much time to get in, they fit us in. We were last minute getting in here and everybody was accommodating and helpful.”
Riley feels that the interest for parents to get involved in their kids’ lives isn’t there like it used to be in his neighborhood. It was this lack of interest that caused his neighborhood to lose its base of dedicated volunteers, according to Riley.
“We lost a couple of good coaches, we lost the gentleman that was organizing things down there and it just went down the tubes,” Riley discloses. “Once you lose those people that are putting these things together you don’t have it anymore.”
Warner agrees with the importance of dedicated volunteers in a youth sports club.
“Without volunteers we wouldn’t have an organization,” Warner admits. “A good person who runs an organization has good help.”
However, Warner also stands by the notion that a neighborhood’s children can also dictate the success of a youth organization.
“It’s got to do with the children in the area,” Warner says. “You need kids to participate and you need to advertise [to them]. It’s the neighborhood that makes the difference.”
Then what is it that truly makes a youth sports club, like Fox-Rok, successful?
“I don’t know the measure of success,” Warner concedes. “If the parents are happy, then yes, I’m happy. If we all had fun during the season, that’s success.”
Regardless of how you measure success, no one can deny the level of commitment and effort it takes to effectively run a youth athletics organization. It is a culmination of the board of directors, the coaches, the players, but most importantly comes from a dedicated neighborhood.
This article is one part of an extended feature on youth athletics in the Northeast. Select here to see another part of the story.