By DAVID VANTRESS
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Youth sports can be an important stitch into the fabric of a community.
That is certainly true in Goshen as there are a host of opportunities for local kids to participate in whatever activity catches their fancy.
Three of the main activities that draw hordes of Goshen youths are baseball, football and — this being Indiana — basketball.
Goshen Youth Football
The brainchild of former Goshen High School head football coach Ken Mirer, the Goshen Youth Football League has become a staple of youth sports and an important feeder program for the high school team.
Between 120-130 boys participate in youth football in Goshen on a yearly basis, according to Chris Immel, one of the league’s volunteer organizers.
In its 27th year, Goshen Youth Football is actually designed as a feeder program for the Goshen High School football program, Immel said.
“We run the same offense and use the same terminology that they use at the high school,” Immel said.
With recent turnover in the head coaching position in Goshen up until last season, that has sometimes been a challenge, Immel said. But the basics of football are also a focus, giving players a fundamental foundation in the sport.
The league is self-contained, and Immel said organizers strive to make the teams as even as possible so that games are competitive. Eight teams are selected, and each team plays a six-game schedule. The games are played on smaller fields.
For Immel, a former Goshen High School assistant, working with the league has been a good way to stay involved with the sport locally, and help the high school program without the time commitment of being a high school coach.
“I love working with the kids, seeing their enthusiasm and willingness to learn,” Immel said.
Goshen Little League
For baseball enthusiasts, Goshen Little League is already gearing up for another season on the diamond. Games will begin in spring, and the season will kick into high gear in late spring and early summer, when all-star teams are selected and district tournaments begin the road to Williamsport.
Goshen Little League celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and league president Perry Haimes — who has two boys, ages 13 and 10, in the program — has a chance this year to shape the future of the organization while his sons come through it.
Programs exists for both boys and girls, from ages 4-5 in the T-ball division, all the way up to a senior division for ages 15-16.
Between 650-700 kids are involved in Goshen Little League in an average year. Signups will begin in March for the upcoming season, and the league conducted skill camps in February to begin the registration process anew.
The league has grown quite a bit over the past 10-15 years, Haimes said. And in an age when some youth leagues find themselves in a perpetual conflict with travel sports teams, Goshen and a local travel team seem to have found a way to peacefully coexist.
Haimes said that includes working with the travel team to coordinate game schedules, so as to avoid conflicts.
Locally, that has also included an agreement that if a player participates on a travel team, he or she also must be a member of Goshen Little League.
Any youth league also often finds itself caught between the twin goals of being competitive while also providing as many opportunities for participation as possible.
Some, Haimes said, want the local Little League program to be a feeder program for the high school team, while others want to keep it more geared toward participation, and creating opportunities for all.
“We’ve got people in our organization who come from both points of view,” Haimes said. “Most people are somewhere in the middle.”
The balance isn’t always easy to strike, Haimes said, but he feels Goshen Little League does a pretty good job of finding that balance.
“The more kids you can have competing, the better,” Haimes said. “And when we get to the all-star level, our teams are pretty competitive.”
For youths interested in basketball, Goshen High School coach Brian Bechtel has a feeder program that starts as young as second grade. More than 100 kids in grades 2-4 are involved. Another 120 or so attend summer camps held at the high school. All seven elementary schools in the Goshen district field a fifth-grade team, and another 55-65 kids annually participate in middle school basketball.
That can add up to as many as 400 kids playing basketball in some form in Goshen every year.
There are also travel team opportunities for kids in grades 3-8, Bechtel said.
At the lower levels, Bechtel said, the focus is on participation and learning skills. As players get older and more serious about the sport there are opportunities for them to take their game to another level.
“We hope to identify kids who are interested in eventually becoming Goshen High School varsity basketball players,” Bechtel said.