By Brad Spencer
It's a scary thought, but could playing high school sports soon become irrelevant?
It all depends. If something like the Gravel Baseball Club, a traveling team made up of 16-and-under high school players from several private high schools on Chicago's South Side, takes off and becomes a trend, the traditional high school ball team could be overshadowed.
According to a recent story posted at Yourseason.com, Gravel Baseball is set to form a club team that plays a schedule similar to Major League Baseball from April through October, which conflicts with the traditional high school schedule of April through June. Gravel players, in other words, will not be able to play for their high school teams.
Organizers, one of whom is Joliet Slammers owner Al Oremus who is financing the costly endeavor, say the reasoning behind beginning a year-round club team involves college recruiting exposure, a better caliber of competition and more opportunities during the summer.
According to the story, Gravel will play tournaments in Wisconsin and Iowa during the high school season — both states' high school baseball programs play in the summer and not in the spring — along with taking trips to Florida, California, Louisiana and Georgia for tournaments.
"I can't think of a more misleading situation for kids," said OPRF head baseball coach Chris Ledbetter. "It's downright ridiculous. They are selling a product based on the false hope of exposure, exposure, exposure."
Ledbetter, who has skippered the Huskies for 12 years and coached the 2011-2012 team to a Class 4A State Championship in June, said he has had players miss several summer league games to compete in high-profile travel team tournaments. "But I'm fine with it, as long as I'm being notified ahead of time. I want them to take advantage of the opportunities that come up during the summer. Now when it comes to the spring, their dedication must be high school baseball. There's a happy median that can co-exist."
The year-round concept would also prevent athletes from participating in other high school sports, such as football.
These high-profile traveling sports teams aren't new. AAU basketball clubs have become more of a showcase for hoops players looking to gain Division I college recruiting attention, but they have yet to schedule games or tournaments during the high school winter season. Who's to say it won't happen in the future?
Ledbetter said he's rankled by the attention younger players are getting these days, even from college recruiters.
"We're getting asked earlier and earlier to give assessments on players, and it's odd to project what a 16-year-old is going to play like," he said. "On the other hand, an 18-year-old may be different in that his physical growth is likely complete and we can evaluate accordingly. But we need to make sure everything is in the best interest of the kids."
That's a reassuring thought.
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