Schoolboys a "launching pad" for baseball options

Kingsley Collins

18 April 2016

 

Open to players seventeen years of age and younger, the National Schoolboys Championship has showcased the very best in young baseball talent since its formal inception in 1989.

 

A time-honoured event that has been graced by literally hundreds of our emerging players – many of whom have gone on to higher honours – the 2016 Championship will be played in Perth from 1-7 May.

 

Following the series, a squad will be selected for a playing tour of United States in September/October, a prospect that excites National Schoolboys Head Coach Peter Giles, a person very well placed to comment on the opportunities it offers for the young men selected. 

 

Although the eastern states ran baseball competitions for schools since the 1940s, it took until much later for a coordinated approach to be developed – one that has enabled emerging young players to compete with their peers at a high-quality national event delivered by School Sport Australia with the support of state associations and Baseball Australia.

 

This time attracting teams from Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and Australian Capital Territory, the Schoolboys Championship continues to play an integral role in the development of our young talent base.

 

“Without question, the schoolboys tournament plays a crucial role in offering players another opportunity to represent their state,” current Victorian and Australian Schoolboys Head Coach Peter Giles told Australian Baseball Alumni this week. “The schoolboys have a tradition of being very much a college-driven pathway in which the emphasis is on team and not the individual.” 

 

“Often the schoolboys series will attract players who have missed out on the national under- aged tournaments but still have plenty to offer their particular states,” Giles said. “The whole tournament promotes mixing with other states and meeting players - which often leads to lifelong friendships.”

 

“At the conclusion of each game, there is a Player of the Match medal given to the outstanding team player from each side. I know that players often look back on these medals years after the tournament with cherished memories.”

Aside from providing elite playing opportunities and creating the environment for personal growth within a team setting, the National Schoolboys has for many years served to bring the sport into focus for young men as a potential career path.

 

“The most crucial part this tournament plays is that it gives young men options for where they might see themselves playing baseball,” Giles explained. “The schoolboys programme often provides seminars conducted by college recruiting experts as to the processes involved in getting to college.”

 

“Several states – including Victoria – are continually pushing the college pathway. From my experience, this is the best avenue for the majority of players to achieve their potential in baseball. Seeing first-hand a number of great college programmes, the support, the coaching, the strength and conditioning programmes and the overall team experience for me is the perfect fit for the majority of Australian baseballers.”

 

“Schoolboys is the perfect launching pad for this,” he said.

 

While the number of our young players heading to college in United States has increased dramatically over the past twenty-five years – in part because of the exposure offered to the college option in a range of disciplines under the aegis of School Sports Australia – over one hundred and fifty Australian baseball players have signed professional contracts either during or after their participation in schoolboys baseball.

 

It is an extraordinary statistic. And of that impressive total, a significant number have gone on to play Major League baseball, from Queenslander Cameron Cairncross (Golden Arm Award at the National Schoolboys in 1989) through to current Oakland staffer Liam Hendriks (who won the Golden Arm playing for Western Australia in 2006). Even earlier than, and since 1989 have been the likes of David Nilsson, Travis Blackley, Brad Harman, Josh Spence, Damian Moss, Peter Moylan, Chris Oxspring, Chris Snelling, Phil Stockman, Rich Thompson, Glenn Williams and Jeff Williams – all of whom played schoolboys baseball and all of whom reached the pinnacle in professional sport.

 

There are more, many more household names in Australian baseball to have represented their state at National Schoolboys level – including the likes of numerous current Australian Baseball League players and others who have gone on to achieve at high levels in the sport both here and overseas.

 

Inaugural winner of the National Schoolboys Championship in 1989, Victoria has been victorious seven times, while Western Australia and Queensland have both won two titles behind schoolboys powerhouse in New South Wales – with a remarkable record of sixteen championships.

 

Pressed on the prospects that he could see for the various states this time around, returning Victorian Head Coach Peter Giles is eminently well-placed to comment.

 

“I have no doubt that New South Wales will be strong again,” he said. “The combining of city and country into one team allows them to continually pick a powerful team filled with consistent hitting and solid pitching from at least six starters. Whoever beats them will have to bring their A Grade game on the day.”

 

“South Australia has had a resurgence over the last couple of years. Last year they were desperately unlucky to miss the gold medal game and with them winning the Under 16 national tournament this year, I have no doubt they will be fielding an extremely talented and competitive side.”

 

“Western Australia - as the hosts - will be very strong. Missing out last year on a top four spot will have stung them and I have no doubt that the calibre of side that runs out onto the field this year will place them in medal contention.”

 

“Queensland is always strong,” he said, “and any side which Chris Norrie is involved with you know will be competitive. ACT has the smallest playing pool to call upon, but for me they are consistently the role models that I tell my players to watch and learn from. They play the game the right way, they consistently hustle and they play hard for nine innings.”

 

“They are a side that should never be underestimated.”

 

“Victoria have been runners-up the past two years. Losing in a fifteen-inning marathon in 2014 and again losing to NSW in a close final last year certainly has the team primed for another tilt at this year’s title.”

 

While teams are still finalising their rosters, Peter Giles expects that the standard of play at the National Schoolboys Championship will again be outstanding as our emerging superstars strive for team success while seeking to impress the legion of scouts, families, club supporters and other interested parties who will be in attendance.

 

“I am reluctant to mention individuals at this stage – especially with teams not finalised – although I am expecting big things from the likes of South Australian Jack O’Loughlin, who had an outstanding series last year,” he said. “From a Victorian perspective, I expect right-armed pitcher Jackson Boyd and shortstop Aaron Ouwehand to come under notice in Perth.”

 

“The beauty of this series, though, is that it allows everyone – including some of the less heralded players - to step up and command serious attention as prospective college or professional baseball players. Baseball can be a very democratic team sport, where anyone - on any given day or in any situation – can do something out of the ordinary.”

While team and personal success at the National Schoolboys Championship are admirable ends in themselves, there is another exciting opportunity presented to the contingent of over one hundred players who will be on display in Perth – possible selection in the Australian National Schoolboys team that is slated to tour the west coast of United States during September and October.

 

International schoolboys playing tours were introduced with a visit to Japan in 1992, followed by a Canadian trip in 1995 and a Florida series in 2000. Since 2005, an international tour has been held every two years – the last being a jam-packed United States itinerary in 2014 under Head Coach Peter Giles and Tour Manager Neil Barrowcliff, both of whom have been long-term and exemplary contributors to the development of Australian baseball players.

 

“The plans are well under way to have a touring team again chosen from this year’s schoolboys tournament in Perth,” Peter Giles said. “The dates are going to be 15 September through to 8 October and the tour will include at least fifteen or sixteen games against college teams along with visits to MLB games, Universal Studios and Disneyland.”  

 

“The coaching staff have not yet been announced so I still have my fingers crossed to be part of another fantastic trip,” said Giles, who has clear and quite definite views on the worth of a tour that is facilitated by School Sport Australia in concert with governing baseball interests.

 

“Having been on two tours now, I can say that the feedback from players and parents whose sons have gone away has been incredible,” Giles said. “Many players have said it has been the greatest experience that they have enjoyed in their baseball careers – and in their lives.”

 

“The tour offers some unique experiences for the players. First, they are mostly billeted for the time they are away and this creates an environment in which they live the American lifestyle,” he said. “The friendships that come out of this experience carry on for long after they return home.”

 

“The tour has involved playing somewhere between 18 and 25 games against a variety of Junior Community Colleges and four-year schools. This alone gives a player a taste of where they are, relative to the college baseball system.”

 

“Previous tours have seen the Australian team play at elite universities such as Ohio State and be given a tour through their facilities. It is mind blowing to see what is available for players seeking to get better!”

 

“One of the greatest benefits that the Australian players gain from these tours is that it puts Australian baseball on the map for many of these colleges,” he said. “The Australian schoolboy players are outstanding ambassadors for Australia – and for Australian baseball.”

 

Of the fifty-five players who have travelled in previous tours under Tour Manager Neil Barrowcliff, forty-five have finished up either in college or professional baseball. It is a record of which tour management and School Sport Australia should be immensely proud, an achievement that prompted this reflection from Barrowcliff after the 2014 tour:

 

"Our kids were wonderful ambassadors for our country, liked and respected everywhere we went. This tour really opened their eyes and gave them an appreciation of the life, the expectations and the workload of a baseballer in the United States. They all embraced it and can't wait to go back."

 

"We were scouted extensively throughout the entire tour," he said, "both from pro and college scouts. The exposure our kids got was invaluable for their futures."

 

Aside from front men Giles and Barrowcliff, previous overseas tours have been accompanied by the likes of Assistant Coaches Chris Norrie, Brendan Wallace and Western Australian Kevin Hooker – a man with invaluable college and pro ball experience who shares the joint interest in helping all players achieve their baseball dreams, notwithstanding the financial costs that are involved.

 

For funding of the National Schoolboys Tournament and the international tours remains a constant challenge in a predominantly user-pays Australian baseball environment.

 

“The National Schoolboys tournament will cost a family approximately $2000 for their son to attend,” Peter Giles said. “Of this, I know that School Sport Victoria offers each player raffle tickets to the tune of $1000 to sell which will come off the total cost for the trip. Sell all tickets and the trip will be $1000 cheaper. I expect that the other states offer similar incentives.”

 

“As always, though, it is the parents who continually provide the shortfall in funds. Knowing how beneficial these tournaments and national tours are for the players, parents will go above and beyond in providing opportunities for their sons to participate.”

 

“For any youngster selected to play in the National Schoolboys Tournament, or to tour with an Australian squad overseas, it is just a fantastic opportunity – and a wonderful life experience – that should be taken up if at all possible,” he said.

 

 

The 2016 National Schoolboys Baseball Championship will be played in Perth, from 1-7 May 2016. Australian Baseball Alumni will seek to provide day-by-day reporting on the event and we will certainly be following the United States tour for our members and supporters.

 

For more information and contact details on Schoolboys Baseball, see the following links:

 

SCHOOL SPORT AUSTRALIA BASEBALL PAGES

 

HISTORY OF SCHOOL BASEBALL IN AUSTRALIA

 

BASEBALL AUSTRALIA