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Hanna always preparing for future

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third story in our follow-up series on the status of youth sports in Lawton. This week we talk about traveling teams vs. school teams, the right organization for Lawton and other key issues.)

If you see Jack Hanna typing into his phone, or jotting down notes on a scrap piece of paper, rest assured he's not texting the wife or kids, but rather preparing for the future.

To do so, the new Lawton Parks and Recreation Director has looked at the past, present and future to identify problems approaching and make the right moves to avoid the pitfalls that have hurt the programs in the past.

"I have some knowledge of the program because I'm a Lawton guy, born and raised here," he said. "I've seen the department as a member of the Recreation Commission for eight years and now I'm seeing how they operate this summer. Their plans for the summer were done before I got on board, so I'm evaluating the staff and seeing how they did on their own. From that I will do a review and then see what changes we can make before next summer."

He doesn't have to look far for advice as just about everyone involved  parents, grand-parents, coaches and others  all have their opinion about how things should operate but Hanna has to make his own decisions after careful consideration of all aspects involved.

Many of those involved, including this writer, feel that the most pressing matter is getting more volunteers into the program as coaches, coordinators and officials into the program.

Hanna also has been listening to both sides of the debate over traveling teams vs. local recreational teams. Some of those involved in this discussion have offered to this writer that the traveling teams have been the downfall of youth sports. Few want to go on record, though, mainly because many of those who discussed this issue with this writer are still coaching and don't want to rock the boat. They are like me, giving Hanna time to make changes and see what his plans might entail.

Critics of traveling teams claim that when you take the one or two good kids out of each school team, it leaves fewer kids and those remaining are not at the same talent level as those good enough for a traveling team. They still form school teams but those often fare really poorly and wind up forfeiting games and not even finishing the season in some cases.

It's easy to spot those teams when they are consistently getting beat by scores such as 21-2, 18-4, 17-1, etc. It's not fun for those remaining kids and I don't blame them for not showing up the following year. Kids need to enjoy some success at most levels except Tee-ball. There the score doesn't matter, in fact often nobody even keeps score, and both teams act like winners when they rush to the concession stand or mom's ice chest for the standard after-game Gatorade, Powerade, soda pop or snow cone.

We asked Hanna about that issue.

"First about the traveling teams, to me there is a place for it," Hanna said. "My kids have done both, they've played on traveling teams and school ball and enjoyed both. While there are a few kids who do both, that number is very limited.

"And, if you look at the numbers, Southwest Oklahoma really doesn't have that many traveling teams. Sure Oklahoma City and Tulsa have hundreds in baseball and softball, but there aren't many in this region. We will keep looking at that issue on a regular basis to see how best to handle it."

One thing Hanna has already decided to do is sit down with other groups as a means to better plan the year's sports schedule.

"My goal is to sit down with the people at Big Green (Soccer Complex) and see if there is a way to adjust our schedules to allow more kids to play two sports each fall and spring. It would sure help our football and our baseball and softball if we could figure out a way to make that agreeable to both sides. The good thing, those guys down there are in this to help the kids just like we are and they seem willing to at least talk this out.

"While there are some people who think youth sports is becoming specialized, I'm not in that group; I want kids to play as many sports as possible," he said. "That keeps them busy and out of mischief. It would also help the teams have more players."

Among the other ideas being tossed around are going to 14 or 16 games each summer in league play. This year the city program has already crowned its city champions. The immediate prior director, Kim Shahan, had said that getting the season over early was mandatory because people want to go on vacation. However, some coaches disagree, offering that it was league officials who wanted to get it done early to make their jobs easier.

This writer is unsure about who is right but two years ago when I attended some city championship games I could not find a single sports coordinator on site. The field supervisor was there but nobody else and she didn't even have a key to open the field. And when coaches saw the field hadn't been raked, marked or mowed, they asked her to open the tool shed to get some rakes and she said nobody had ever entrusted her with a key.

Those are the things Hanna has to fix and he swears he's made progress.

"I've heard and read about those things and while they may have been true back then, since I've been on the job they've all worked their tails off for me," he said. "They've been doing things without being told. They've helped get brochures out to the schools, they've been working with the coaches, they've done everything I asked of them."

One thing that Hanna, his staff and the Recreation commission must always evaluate is what organizations are best suited for the Lawton programs. In youth baseball there are many options: USSSA, ASA, Little League, Connie Mack, Pony Baseball, Babe Ruth, Dizzy Dean Baseball, Dixie Youth Baseball and OK Kids, which is based only in the state of Oklahoma.

Those programs actively recruit cities to join, often battling against each other for larger city programs such as Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The reason is simple, your league fees are based on the number of teams in your program, so the bigger cities produce larger proceeds for the organizations. It's also a recruiting tool for the organizations, the more large cities they have the better it is for their financial future.

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