With spring comes another season of America’s pastime, baseball.
While the professionals started last week, local little and youth leagues will open their seasons later this month.
According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, youth baseball has grown by nearly 50 percent over the past three years.
While that includes travel ball, Little Leagues are often left behind, especially in small communities. Heading into 2019, many local leagues report steady or growing numbers.
Piedmont board member Ed Doyle said that the league has roughly 800 players registered for the upcoming season – a figure he added is similar to enrollment in recent years.
“We always count 1,200, but that includes our summer and fall leagues, and Buddy Ball,” he said. “For the regular season it’s around 800, and that’s baseball and softball.”
Doyle said things are going very well for the league, with several field improvement made in the past year, and coaching and player clinics scheduled for the spring.
They also still have the aforementioned Buddy Ball program, which started in 2016, for special needs players.
“That’s also going very well,” Doyle said. “We have between 16 and 20 kids who show up, with their buddies.”
Piedmont is hosting a Midatlantic regional tournament in July, Doyle said, with players from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware competing.
“That’s always a lot of fun,” he said. “Everybody likes coming to Hockessin.”
At the Smyrna-Clayton Little Lass league, where they offer youth softball, they’ve seen a steady increase in participation. In 2017, they had 239 members, 247 last year, and now 262 are enrolled. Smyrna-Clayton Little Lass president Aaron Weisenberger gives a lot of the credit to improving the league, from top to bottom, making it an enticing option for the community.
“Rising numbers reflect the work put into the complex,” Weisenberger said. “A large part is due to $59,000 in grants, generous league sponsors and smart financial spending by our board of directors.”
Over the past few seasons, they’ve added a lighted field to their complex, remodeled concession stands and T-ball dugouts, overhauled several fields, added restrooms and new scoreboards, upgraded player jerseys and increased manager training.
Smyrna’s Little Lass program is trying to draw eyes with a softball tournament that’s bringing some of the best teams from Delaware and surrounding states.
“The most exciting announcement is that our organization is hosting a softball tournament July 6 and 7 with 31 teams from Delaware, Maryland and Virginia descending on Smyrna,” Weisenberger said.
Last season, the Georgetown Little League had 350 players enroll. This season, they expect the same or more.
“Not sure why numbers rise and fall,” said Georgetown Little League president Dennis Swain. “[They] have remained roughly the same over the last few years, after a steady decline for years.”
Perhaps one reason behind the steady participation in Sussex County is the growing number of players joining as many leagues as possible, including local little leagues, despite the outside options which may be more expensive and time consuming.
“We know that players have more options to play baseball and softball,” Swain said. “However, many of our players who play with other organizations also play Little League.”
Some localities aren’t seeing new players. Dover Little League information officer Renatae Burton says their league has seen enrollment drop.
“We’re down as opposed to last year. This is my third year here and we’ve been slowly declining, but this year is the lowest it’s been in awhile,” Burton said. “When I talked with some parents, children are joining travel ball leagues, or playing sports at Delaware Turf, they’ve kind of ventured off to other things,” Burton said. “Our younger leagues, T-ball and pee-wee, are still growing.
“Also, a lot of parents say they school choice their kids [and] they’re playing in the school’s
leagues so they can play with their friends.”
To turn things around, Dover Little League is reaching out to the commmunity.
“Our main goal is to revamp the league and get those numbers up,” Burton said. “We still haven’t closed our registration. Online registration is closed, but our overall registration isn’t closed for kids still interested in playing this year.
“We also have scholarships to offer if they can’t afford it, or if it’s something new they want to try. We love Dover and we want to keep supporting the league and help it grow.”
For those still interested in playing Little League at Dover, the league e-mail is email@example.com and the phone is 302-535-2067.