The value of sports to society
Soon after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, millions of Americans sought to comfort one another, seek a sense of normalcy and express their patriotism in their communities' de facto gathering spots - sports arenas.
Across the nation, people found solace in sports, not simply in the competition but in the sense of community that sports fosters.
So it was over the last two weeks, on a lesser scale, as the nation focused on events in two places: Ferguson, Missouri, where a police shooting of an unarmed black teenager exposed a raw racial nerve reminiscent of the 1960s; and South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where a young African-American girl from Philadelphia dazzled and inspired with her skill and poise.
Before 13-year-old Mo'ne Davis, other girls had participated in the Little League World Series. But none had pitched a shutout, none had drawn a crowd of 35,000 and none had appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
The city of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Phillies will honor Mo'ne and her teammates of the Taney Dragons today for their brilliant run to the LLWS semifinals. Mo'ne predicted that their success will inspire more girls to play Little League, which is great. But a larger back story points to the broad value of sports to the society, even though they sometimes are overemphasized.
As detailed by Frank Bruni of The New York Times, the Taney Dragons' run to the LLWS was not some happy accident, and it was not even the most important part of the story.
Steve Bandura founded the league in which Mo'ne and her teammates play in the 1990s, largely with his own money. He saw it as a recreational opportunity and a vehicle for kids to stay in school and, in some cases, play their way into college. Before the league achieved fame in the LLWS, kids had gone through the program and used it as a catalyst to a better life.
Mr. Bandura now operates the league as a city employee out of the Marian Anderson Recreation Center in South Philadelphia.
The team's success on the field is simply a reward for the off-the-field philosophy that drives the program. It showcases a marvelous young talent like Mo'ne and demonstrates that youth recreation is not a frivolous expense.