Houston's Devin Coulter, second from left, celebrates with his teammates after homering in last night's 11-12 year old game.

When Houston Parks and Recreation Director Jim Root gathers his coaches at the beginning of each season, he stresses the importance they will play in each child’s life on their team. Not only as coaches.

“I ask these guys to be mentors,” Root said. “That’s a pretty heavy burden to bear. When they really stop and think about it, these kids are going to look up to them most likely the rest of their lives.”

Which is why Root, a former coach himself, appreciates each of the men and women that volunteer their time to make Houston’s summer youth baseball and softball programs tick.

Root said volunteers are the backbone of the league. They give up their time – he estimates between 6-8 hours per week – to coach and teach boys and girls up to 15 years old.

Houston has nearly 180 kids that make up 17 teams in the summer program. Root believes it’s the biggest league in the area. There is one head coach and multiple assistants for each team.

“The programs rely on these coaches, there’s no doubt about it,” Root said. “Without them, we can’t have a program.”

Marty Merckling, who coaches one of three 11-12 year old baseball teams, is a veteran of volunteering his time. He coached three years in Raymondville and has spent the past six years coaching Houston teams. He has also been involved with the Mighty Mites program for 13 years and coached basketball in Houston the past two seasons.

Merckling said sports were always important to him growing up, especially after his mother died when he was 12. His son plays on his current team, but he hasn’t always had a child on teams he has coached.

“I do it for the kids,” Merckling said. ” I enjoy working with the young kids.”

Merckling said he spends a majority of his time emphasizing the mental part of the game – demeanor, emotions, motivating yourself. He said he stresses those areas to each player he coaches at every level.

“It’s the most important thing we teach,” Merckling said, “and it carries over into other aspects of life.”

Root said it takes a special type of person to coach. They must be able to deal with people, enjoy being around kids and command discipline. Unfortunately, it’s becoming more difficult to find those type of people.

“Some parents don’t have the time, and I understand that,” Root said. “But some parents don’t take the time. It’s easier to find someone else to do it.”

Root said it’s never too early to begin to considering coaching, even as an assistant. As the league grows and more kids participate, it’s even more important that parents become involved.

“If someone has little kids coming up, consider it,” he said. “I want people that have 2- and 3-year-olds that know the game to start thinking about helping.”

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