Getting knocked off the tee of life
Put your T-ball tees at half-height, or pour a 40-ouncer on them, or do something in memoriam, because the Michigan gym teacher credited with popularizing T-ball has died at the age of 93.
Jerome “Jerry” Sacharski was a teacher and coach in the Albion Public Schools from 1951 to 1980. But his legend was made one fateful summer. From The Associated Press:
T-ball helps young children develop baseball skills while eliminating one of its most difficult aspects: hitting pitched balls. They instead hit baseballs from adjustable tees placed on home plate.
The game’s exact origin is unclear but behind Sacharski, Albion in 1956 became one of the nation’s first communities in which T-ball was played as an organized sport.
On June 19, 2002, former U.S. Rep. Nick Smith, a Michigan Republican, offered a tribute to Sacharski and his T-ball efforts from the House floor.
“After he started teaching, Jerry took it upon himself in 1954 to head up the Albion recreation department’s summer baseball program,” Smith said at the time. “Because of this position, he was able to see the lack of opportunity for younger children that two years later would drive him to develop one of the largest innovations in youth sports.”
The original Mr. T at work.
Here is an earlier account of Sacharski’s work. It was written by the local newspaper the Morning Star, and reposted on an Albion history site. It notes that Sacharski called the game “Pee Wee” instead of T-ball.
The program grew astronomically in its early years. It began with 60 boys in 1956, 185 in 1958, and 228 in 1960. The novelty of the game caught on, and in 1960 Albion boys played at a game at Michigan State University that was filmed and aired on educational television station WMSB channel 10. The program soon received regional press and various presentations were made by Sacharski as the new sport caught on. Albion’s “Pee-Wee” pre-T-Ball origin of the sport was forgotten when the game was developed elsewhere nationally in the 1960s. The tee eventually became the focal point in naming the game, which evolved from Tee-Ball to T-Ball. But we were first in Albion to use the tee in an organized baseball game.
Not everyone is willing to credit Sacharski as the inventor, or even popularizer, of T-ball. A Florida principal named Dayton Hobbs was the first to register the name Tee Ball and on the official Tee Ball site, he is credited as the game’s inventor, in 1960. No mention of Sacharski anywhere. Meanwhile, the Starkville (Miss.) Rotary Club claims two of its members invented the game, with the date of origin sometime in the early 1960s. (By the way, Voit is the company widely credited as having built the first batting tees, though they were intended as training tools, not the basis for a league.)
Whoever the real inventor — and Sacharski at least has documented proof he was running T-ball before Hobbs and the Starkville Rotarians — that person might also have inadvertently paved the way for starting kids in organized sports at tremendously young ages. As Rep. Smith described it in his 2002 tribute to Sacharski:
Because of this lack of coordination in younger children, for years baseball opportunities for children had consisted only of little league teams for children 11 and 12 years of age, and baseball leagues for children over 14. This was not acceptable to Jerry. Instead of simply perpetuating the lack of opportunities for younger children, Jerry acted and came up with a system that we all take for granted today.