Years later, the 40-year-old regional sales manager does his best to perpetuate the saving graces of team sports, paying it forward as a little league volunteer, a high school wrestling coach and the president of the Sparks Centennial Little League.
Howe’s involvement with SCLL began in 2004 when he decided to coach his son’s T-Ball team. After three consecutive years as a coach, Howe then decided to join the league’s board of directors, mainly for the purpose of improving the playing fields.
“All of these kids, they just want to play like the Majors do. When they see that green grass and lines freshly chalked, it just does something to a little kid,” Howe said. “I just didn’t think there was enough visibility on taking care of the fields and prepping them and getting them ready to play … It’s blossomed into so many more things.”
Since joining the SCLL board in 2007, Howe has served in a variety of positions, including minors director, majors director, fields coordinator, schedule coordinator, vice president and most recently as president of the board, a position he ascended to in October of last year.
Regardless of position, one of Howe’s main goals has consistently been increasing league participation. In 2007, Howe and other board members raised eyebrows with their then ambitious goal of increasing youth enrollment from 385 to 500 members. Today, Howe says SCLL is the biggest youth baseball organization in Nevada, boasting just over 1,000 players in its baseball and softball divisions combined and serving just over 40 percent of the 3,500 boys K-6 in its zoning district. In comparison, Howe claims that most leagues only bring in 15 to 20 percent of their eligible population.
“It’s a pretty impressive ratio that our people have driven home,” Howe said. “Our community is Centennial … almost every family with children has been a part of Centennial at some point.”
And time has only magnified his ambitions. As current president, Howe is passionate about promoting the “2,017 by 2017” campaign, announced by SLCC in June of last year, to increase the number of co-ed rail city youth participating in little league activities to over 2,000 over the next four years. Although Sparks’ two little leagues are still about 650 kids short, Howe believes that athletic engagement is a priority worth striving for — namely because of the social and communal benefits it presents for the participating youth.
Perhaps it’s his small-town upbringing, but Howe believes the key benefit of sports involvement comes from the tight-knit community built through team participation. The game itself inspires sportsmanship, accountability and connects youth with positive role models. In addition, when kids get excited about their sport, they inspire parents to get involved as volunteers. In time, parents meet parents, families forge relationships and community bonds are formed.
“I may be a little bit biased, but I believe sports change lives,” Howe said. “Is that idealistic? I don’t know, but I also don’t know any other way. I’m an optimist.”
By fostering the growth of a network of teammates, parents, friends and peers, Howe’s cardinal hope is that the accountability and support generated by a communal sense of belonging helps to keep susceptible youth on the straight and narrow — even after their little league years.
“My ideal vision is to continue teaching accountability through competition. The athletes, the parents and the city, we all need to practice accountability,” Howe said. “If we grow and do those things as a community, they grow and become impactful.”
So far, Howe believes the SLCC model of community engagement has prevailed, success he attributes to the engagement and participation of parental volunteers.
“Our league isn’t about me; it’s about the people who do the little things. It’s about the hundreds of volunteers who call me with ideas and go out to rake the fields.” Howe said. “If you come out there any night when we’re on the fields and watch the moms and dads get out of their cars and work, that’s when you can sit back as the president of the league and say ‘I’m happy to be a part of this organization.’”
By continuing to boost Little League participation across the city, he hopes to further expedite the community sentiment. In his mind’s eye, Howe envisions a Sparks community reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting: safe, inviting and united under the fluorescent din of the baseball diamond’s night lights.
“I think we’ve done a good job through the use of sports of keeping the community together in Sparks,” Howe said. “It’s really a give-and-take effort that’s blossomed into something really healthy for the city.”