| 2014 Q3 | story by STEVEN HERTZOG | photos by STEVEN HERTZOG |
The numbers can be staggering: 800 baseball games,700 basketball games, 200 coaches, 300 volunteers, 100 officials, 3000 kids.
Now imagine getting all these kids onto teams, making the schedules, coordinating the coaching staffs, officials, facilities, then rescheduling the games cancelled for rain outs, lightening storms, snow days and, most importantly, making sure the kids have fun. It is a 24/7 job for one very dedicated person, and that person is Lee Ice.
“I love my job,” Ice said. “I tell people that I have never had to go to work. This isn’t work. It’s fun for me.”
Ice is proud to brag that he has been fortunate to never leave Lawrence, except for his first couple of years after graduating from the University of Kansas and playing minor league baseball for the Kansas City Royals. He has never lived anywhere else but Lawrence.
As an East Lawrence kid, Ice attended East Heights Elementary, St Johns, Central Junior High and Lawrence High School. He began working for Lawrence Parks and Recreation at the young age of 16 as a ball diamond maintenance man.
After graduating LHS, Ice enrolled at KU. A die-hard Jayhawk fan since the day he was born, Ice captained the Jayhawk baseball team to its first 30 win season in history as he anchored the corner at third base.
With a degree in secondary and physical education, Ice was a 21-year-old senior at KU when he was signed by the Kansas City Royals to play minor league baseball for their minor league team in Sarasota and Fort Meyers, Florida.
Upon returning to Lawrence, Lee continued his education at KU to earn his master’s in sports administration and took a job with the Lawrence Parks and Recreation department.
“It was really an opportunity for me to give back to the community that gave so much to me,” Ice said.
Ice finds in sports the values that we each can take and use to make us better people.
“It builds character, self esteem, discipline and teaches us leadership. All those things that will hopefully make them successful when they are 25-30 yrs old. I have only coached 5 kids who ever made a living at a sport, but it doesn’t touch the kids who went on to be doctors, lawyers, dentists, teachers, firefighters, police officers and they are the ones who make a difference in everyone’s life,” Ice said.
Ice took his lead as a role model from his dad, Al Ice; the man he says was and always will be his mentor.
A mailman who coached American Legion Baseball for 25 years and never got paid. A volunteer, who would get up at 4 a.m. to do his mail route, go to practice at 3 p.m. and be home at midnight and get up and do it again. The ballpark at Holcom field is named after his dad and Ice’s uncle Tony, whom with Al coached the first American Legion baseball team to come out of Lawrence in 1974.
From its inception, Lawrence Parks and Recreation has been put on a pedestal by the rest of the state. Lee is quick to point out that it was under the leadership of his predecessors Fred DeVictor, Tom Wilkerson and Kathy Foley that Lawrence established its vision in making Lawrence Parks and Recreation a progressive leader in the state. From developing and running programs for adult and youth sports, putting on special events, acquiring land, building an outdoor aquatic center and then an indoor aquatic center, representatives from all over the state have come here to see what we are doing and try to replicate the Lawrence way.
In the coming year, the residents of Lawrence have a lot to look forward to. Starting in September, parks and recreation will be moving from Holcom recreation center to Sports Pavilion Lawrence. Lawrence’s new state of the art sports facility is going to offer much more for the residents of Lawrence.
“We are going to surpass anything that I could ever have imagined in this new facility for gym space, tournaments, and offer new programs. Whether it be flag football for kids or adults, indoor soccer on turf, Volleyball, an 1/8 of a mile walking track, it will be amazing what we will be able to offer,” Ice said.
And with this new space, Lawrence will become one of the leaders in youth sports tournaments not only in the state, but the entire Midwest.
The mission statement says we are here to enhance the quality of life for the citizens of Lawrence. For Ice, the most important element in all of this is to make sure the kids have fun.
“In 25 years I have never had a complaint from a child, from a 6 to 18-year old. The complaints come from the adults. And often times the complaints from the parents are unrealistic,” Ice said.
The complaints are not so much from what Lawrence Parks and Rec has to offer to the kids in terms of programs and opportunities, but from the expectations parents have from their own kids.
Ice believes that sports are becoming too specialized, and that they are no longer seasonal. Some of these coaches want to do one sport all year round, and a kid has to choose between one sport or another and play it all year round. Youth sports have become a big business. Families now are spending up to $6,000 to be on these teams that go all over the place. Statistically, 75 percent of kids who participate in competitive athletics quit by the age of 12 because it is not fun anymore.
Kids quitting at an early age is a nationwide problem, not just a Lawrence problem. Ice feels it is more about educating the parents than the kids. The kids just want to have fun. It is not just who wins, but it is the camaraderie, the sportsmanship and the teamwork that the kids take with them the rest of their lives. The team sports should help them develop character, how to deal with other people and how to handle adversity, because that’s what life is and that is what Ice thinks sports teach you.
Ice’s philosophy is that we as adults have to teach kids how to get through that adversity and make sure they understand it is not life or death – it’s fun. And, as a competitor in sports as in life, you have to look for the next opportunity.
However, Ice still offers a word of caution to the parents.
“You have to keep the fun in competition,” Ice said. “Parents need to enjoy their kids competing while they are still playing. Because this time in their lives will go by really fast. Parents don’t believe it now because they are going to multiple practices and multiple games, car pooling trying to make sure their kid has more than they did but you have to enjoy it, breath, have fun. It is an on going process to educate parents to keep things in perspective and have fun and let their kids enjoy it The game is not going to change. Baseball will always be baseball. Basketball will always be basketball. The objectives will always be the same. And most importantly, go get an ice cream after the game.” ■