My son was born to play baseball. When he was a year old, Ben couldn’t walk, and he didn’t crawl, but he could throw the heck out of a ball. From the time he could grasp a ball in his tiny hands, he favored his right hand—so in an effort to increase Ben’s chances of Major League stardom, my husband tied a ball to his left arm. Those efforts failed, and my husband’s dream of a southpaw son were not realized (so any other father with the same harebrained scheme need not waste his time).
As Ben grew older, he was always happiest with a ball and bat in hand, and we knew that as soon as he was old enough to join a league, we had to sign him up. Lake Forest Little League doesn’t accept T-ball players until they are 5, but this past winter, Ben was a 4-year-old eager to join a team. Luckily, the Saddleback Unified School District has a department of recreation and community services with sports leagues for children as young as 4 years old.
Two of the most popular leagues for young children are the beginning baseball and soccer leagues. Baseball teams are broken into two divisions: T-ball for 4- and 5-year-olds, and coach pitch for 6- and 7-year olds. The teams are coached by parents and rely heavily on parental involvement. Teams usually participate in 30 minutes of practice followed by a 30-minute game. Parents can sign their children up for Saturday games, which are played at Glen Yermo Elementary, or Sunday games at the Cox Media Sports Park in Ladera Ranch.
My son has played in the Saturday and Sunday leagues—and for Lake Forest residents, there are plus and minuses to both parks. The Saturday games are much closer to home, but the fields are not in the best shape, and parents need to bring their own chairs and umbrellas for shade. The Cox complex is as nice as youth sports gets, but the drive to games is much longer and parking is often an issue. Whatever location you choose, your children will have a blast. The registration fee is $75 for seven games and includes a uniform shirt and hat.
If your child seems much more interested in kicking a ball than throwing a ball, beginning soccer would serve as a great introduction to the sport. Kids are broken up by age group—“DD” for 4- and 5-year-olds, “D” for 5- and 6-year-olds, and “C” for 7- and 8-year-olds. Participants are taught the rules of the game and techniques to improve their skills. Just as in baseball, these teams are mostly coached by parents, and seven games along a team uniform are included in the $75 registration fee. Saturday soccer games are held at Linda Vista Elementary and at the ultra-posh Cox Media Sports Park.
Another fun sports league offered to children ages 4 through 7 is the beginning basketball league. Teams use junior-sized basketballs and the hoop is lowered to 8 feet so that kids can work on skills and have fun. Just as with baseball and soccer, players usually practice for 30 minutes and then play a game for 30 minutes. One thing I like about the basketball league is that it gives families the option of a Friday-night league so that our weekends are ruled by extracurricular activities. Friday and Sunday leagues play at Rancho Santa Margarita Intermediate School, and the Saturday league plays at Serrano Intermediate.
If you are interested in putting your children in any of these leagues for the summer season, visit the Saddleback Recreation website. Summer soccer and baseball leagues begin June 25 and 26. Summer basketball starts on June 17, 18 and 19.