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Elkhart area Little League programs looking to keep more kids playing each summer

The 10 parks District 14 of northern Indiana featured more than 3,600 youth players in all baseball and softball divisions.

Posted on July 14, 2014 at 2:25 p.m.

It often comes down to a moment. Little Leagues hope every child who plays has at least one per season.

So says Brandon Roell, the president at Concord’s program in Elkhart.

"There's that kid who has two hits all year and drives in two runs as a game-changer," said Roell. "It's the joy on these kids' faces when they play a great game or beat a team they didn't think they could beat."

There is much to learn about playing Little League baseball or softball.

"It teaches them great life lessons," said Goshen president Thomas Cain. "Kids learn teamwork, how to be successful. how to deal with disappointment."

Each Little League season has its achievements and its challenges.

DISTRICT 14 LITTLE LEAGUE

Park/Player Numbers (approx.)

Baugo: 300
Bristol: 130
Cleveland: 250
Concord: 600
Elkhart FOP/IAFF: 65
Goshen: 600
Middlebury: 550
Mishawaka: 300
Osolo: 450
Warsaw: 400
Total: 3,645

District 14 league presidents, who run programs in Elkhart County, Mishawaka and Warsaw, shared their takes on the 2014 season, which is winding to a close.

Many leagues opted to have interleague play between parks in order to increase competition while Bristol and Elkhart FOP/IAFF, the two smallest programs, partnered to form teams.

While additional travel placed a hardship on some parents, many players enjoyed the excitement of playing at other parks.

"The kids had some really good experiences," said Bristol president Gary Ganger. "To me, that's what it's all about."

The challenges remain the same at most places — getting enough people to pitch in to keep things rolling.

"Little League needs more volunteers and less complaining," said Roell. "Anymore, it's harder to find volunteers. Everybody is so busy."

To get people to help, Goshen has offered incentives like free registration for board members, umpire shirts for those who work enough games and crowd control measures to make things friendlier for the volunteer officials.

Baugo president Carl Kelly Jr. says his park has taken to paying many umpires $15 per game. Umpires at some of the upper levels at Bristol were also paid.

"The dads wear sandals to keep from umpiring, which is really sad," said Ganger. "Once you get into it, it can be so rewarding."

While it varies from park to park, most struggle to meet costs.

"The fees that families pay barely covers uniforms and game balls," said Hollingsworth.

Weather was an issue before and during the season, too. The harsh winter meant that many parks got a late start with registration and practices.

Recent storms also caused damage at Goshen, causing some games to be moved to other parks or Goshen High School facilities.

"We appreciate Goshen High School and the other leagues that reached out to help us," says Cain, whose park celebrated its 25th year.

Ray says volunteers at Elkhart FOP/IAFF Heroes Park spent much of the season repairing vandalism to structures and equipment.

An ongoing issue in Little League is the relationship with travel baseball and softball teams.

"We've tried to embrace travel ball," says Roell, who estimates 40 players were retained by Concord going to an Intermediate 50/70 Baseball division that incorporates the same rules as travel and high school ball. "Our 11-year-olds have learned so much."

Hollingsworth sees a benefit to travel ball players who stay in Little League and tries to be cooperative with the travel groups.

"That way, they get to play with their friends and neighbors," he says. "But there always has to be a little give and take."


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