Continuing a proud tradition
Editor’s note: this is part two of a two-part series. Read part one here.
“Mt. Pleasant has such a proud tradition of athletics,” said Jim Becker, who runs youth football and golf leagues in Mt. Pleasant. “Youth sports get kids motivated into team sports and physical fitness. Hopefully, with the right guys running the programs, they learn a lot more than athletics.”
BECKER STARTED A TACKLE football league 12 years ago, just a few years after he started running the town’s youth golf program.
Becker’s son Cameron was in sixth grade when Burlington started a tackle football league, and Becker put together a Mt. Pleasant team that played in it.
“Jordan Cotton (wide receiver for the Iowa Hawkeyes) was in the Burlington league that first year,” Becker said.
The next year, Mt. Pleasant had two teams playing in Burlington. That’s when Becker meet Ashton, and the pair teamed up with the goal of bringing a youth tackle football league to Mt. Pleasant.
“We started building an inventory of pads,” Becker said. “That was the toughest thing when we were starting out — we would measure kids at the start of the season, order equipment, and then by August, nothing fit them!”
But over the years, they built up a good-sized stash, which they now use in their own Mt. Pleasant league.
“It was always an idea to see if we could (start a league),” Becker said. “If we got four teams, we were going to start one in Mt. Pleasant.”
It didn’t take too long to get to four teams, and when they did, the high school football staff got involved.
Now they have more than 80 kids doing fifth and sixth grade football.
“Bob Jensen helps announce games on Sunday, on his own time,” Becker said. “Everyone’s real generous with their time. Jensen and the coaches do the fitting and the draft all in one morning. They have 8-10 coaches who show up and help. It used to take weeks, but now they get it all done in one day.
“Jensen also does the selection of coaches, and he is very careful to find the right kind of coaches,” Becker added.
When he put together the football program, Becker had some experience with getting youth sports started.
Becker runs the Young Guns youth golf program at the Mt. Pleasant Golf Course and Country Club.
“The club has been really receptive,” Becker said.
He’s had anywhere from 27 to 57 kids taking classes, ranging in age from five years old through high school.
Becker has three sons; along with Cameron, he has AJ (now 26) and Dillon (18). All three of them golf.
“Golf is an individual sport, where you call penalties on yourself,” Becker said. “We teach (the kids) etiquette, and they’re bound by that.”
The kids get treated like adults on the golf course — they have to be responsible for themselves. But they get some help from older golfers in the club.
“The older kids mentor the younger kids,” Becker said.
WILLY AMOS HAS BEEN the president of little league for 11 years, with a two-year break in the middle.
He wants to see not only his own children, but everyone in little league have fun. He also likes to see more competitive options for kids, and eventually, he wants to be able to experience what Ronnie Ashton has — seeing the little athletes he coaches get older and bring a state championship trophy back to Mt. Pleasant High School.
“We want to see a state champion high school baseball or softball team,” he said.
Amos started helping with little league when Dustin, his oldest (17) was in first grade. His other two children, Rylee (13) and Carter (8), also play; he helps with Rylee’s softball team and will soon be starting a tournament team for Carter.
“I’ve always liked baseball,” Amos said. “I played in high school.”
But he didn’t necessarily intend to be the little league president. At first, he just volunteered to take a team.
“I really didn’t get into it thinking about the board side, but they needed a coach,” Amos said. “Then I realized how much work and how many people it takes to put it all together, and there was a need on the board at that point.”
So he decided to step up and take on a bigger role.
Amos notes that there have been many people in the history of the Mt. Pleasant Little League who have stepped up to get the organization where it is today.
“There have been some great people in the history of little league,” Amos said. “The fields were built by the Jaycees in 1971; it’s been around for so long, and there are about 200-275 kids a year who play. It’s incredible how many kids have gone through youth baseball.”
The little league still relies on help from those in the community.
“The businesses in town step up,” Amos said. “Little league wouldn’t exist without sponsors; it would be impossible to operate.
“We need more volunteers, too,” he added. “The last two years, we’ve had three or four board members, that’s all. This year, we’ve got 10, and in the last eight years, the fields have never looked better. I’ve got a really active group of coaches.”
Those coaches have made Brent Broeker’s job a lot easier.
Broeker, the Mt. Pleasant High School baseball coach, serves as a consultant for the little league. He said that he hasn’t been called too much lately, because there are some very knowledgeable coaches helping out right now.
He also gives Amos a lot of credit for the work he’s done with the program. “Amos jumped back in to help when the Little League was struggling,” Broeker said. “He’s done a great job with that Little League.”
“(Little league) is kids’ first taste of organized sports,” Amos said, “and it’s a good place to do it — it’s more relaxed, an easier learning environment, and a kid doesn’t have to be the best to play. There’s not much that’s more fun than coaching the five- and six-year-olds; they get so excited.”
Amos also helps out on the tournament team side of things.
“We had one of the first traveling baseball teams,” Amos said. “We went all over — Kansas City, Omaha, St. Louis, South Dakota.
“The pro for tournament teams is that kids get a taste of the real side of baseball at an early age, but the con is the same thing — it can be very competitive,” he explained.
Broeker, who is also a parent of two kids who are very involved in sports, has seen — and laments — that numbers have diminished in city leagues, but also understands the value of tournament teams and more competitive play.
“What’s good about the tournament teams is the experience they get playing good teams. In high school, they’ll play the best every day,” Broeker said. “They need to be put in game situations now so that it’s not a shocking experience when they’re older.
“But I’m against tournament teams when the kids can’t play rec ball,” he added. “You can’t take away the top kids — the decision is made too early. I’ve always thought they should play both.”
Like Ashton, who tries to make tournament play as inexpensive as possible, Broeker doesn’t like to see anything stopping kids from playing sports — event their participation on more competitive teams.
“(Tournaments) give the kids and parents a good idea of what’s out there. But it’s starting earlier and earlier. And I guess even though I’m part of that, I still think there should be a couple years of fun.”
He’s seen his own kids have a lot of fun with youth sports.
“It’s been awesome,” Amos said. “There are really good people out there who enjoy coaching all kids, not just their own. You see a good sense of community, and some good organizations building tradition and community pride. As we travel around, people know the Mt. Pleasant Panther.”
And of course, he sees the positive effects it has on the kids themselves.
“In general, anything the kids would do, be it sports or band — to me, it’s the same thing — is better than watching TV, playing video games or getting into trouble,” Amos said.
THERE ARE CERTAINLY MORE PEOPLE who could be recognized here — so many in Mt. Pleasant give their time and energy to work in youth sports. Despite their work often going unnoticed, they are creating something positive for the kids and building a tradition in the community.