Joe Shea Celebrates 50 Years With Little League
By Nicole Riva
He may be dedicated to baseball, but Joe Shea thinks kids ought to play several sports when they’re young. Shea has spent 50 years volunteering with Little League Baseball, and he’s seen many changes, from the players’ equipment to the materials uniforms are made of. But the most startling change for him is the trend of parents encouraging their kids to specialize in one sport.
“Kids today, if they have an aptitude for a sport they seem to get pushed into it,” he said. Shea thinks variety in sports is good — he also coached hockey for several years, which is how he met his wife. “It’s a lot better for them at a younger age to play all kinds of sports instead of focusing on one or two,” Shea said.
Shea began his Little League career as an assistant coach with teams in Pennsylvania, and when he finished university and got a job in Edmonton he continued his coaching there. He was a coach until the mid-70s when his administrative work got too busy.
Shea has been president of Little League Baseball Canada since 1975. At age 69, he has been volunteering with Little League for over 50 years.
In his years as a coach and administrator Shea’s tried to cheer for the underdog and not the star of the team.
“My main passion and concern is not with the good athletes. A good athlete always finds a place, they get the coaching and that. But it’s the kids that aren’t that great at sports but they want to play for fun and when you get into a program I hate to see those kids get cut. I’d rather see where everybody plays,” Shea said.
There are three levels at Little League Baseball Canada — the Tournament, Grassroots and Challenger. The tournament league players compete to play in the World Series, while the Grassroots is less competitive, and Challenger is for kids with disabilities.
Though he enjoys the administrative role, he misses coaching because he got to interact with the kids more.
“The best part is working with the kids and seeing them develop, not just as athletes but as young people in whatever walks of life,” said Shea.
Now, he sees the kids yearly at the Canadian Championship and World Series.
Having been involved with the sport for so long, Shea has seen kids grow up and become adults who are now helping out with Little League.
“The biggest thing is seeing these kids that you did coach when they were kids that are now adults and working in the community . . . and they remember you and talk to you. A lot of them are giving back to the sport,” he said.
Another change Shea has witnessed is with coaches and umpires who now have access to training. “In the early days coaching was sort of a well-meaning father, and now we’re trying to make available training for the coaches and umpires and the players without losing the focus of having fun,” he said. There are no fancy descriptions for why Shea likes baseball, “it’s just a game I’ve liked and followed all along.”