Little League signups reported to be down again

Snow covers a Little Lass Softball outfield in Smyrna at mid-morning on Friday and the infield remains wet. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

DOVER — As mid-week snow covered Delaware’s diamonds, Little League season seemed quite distant.

It wasn’t, really, and coaches drafted teams and prepared for opening games in less than a month.

The time needed to choose up sides varied widely throughout District I.

While the Middletown, Smyrna and Camden-Wyoming leagues maintained comfortable numbers, dropoffs continued elsewhere.

In Dover, participation was “way down” according to league president Bill Leslie despite extensive marketing efforts.

Marydel-Hartly, the smallest district in Delaware, had just one team each in each division after T-ball. The league had 130 players in 2017, and 100 kids signed up at the beginning of this week.

Those baseball and softball squads will need to play out of league games just to have a season.

“We’re fighting and scratching to keep it going,” Marydel-Hartly LL President Scott Murray said. “Every year we’re facing the same challenge.”

Milford’s registration was still being totaled but league Information Officer Scott Petty said, “I can tell you that the numbers are down once again.
“Finding that the competing other sport are affecting the Little League throughout the area.”

Mr. Leslie attributed some of Dover’s dropoff to an aging community, but knows the Capital School District’s enrollment figures are high enough to potentially attract more kids than are playing.

“We’re not like Middletown where they keep adding neighborhoods,” Mr. Leslie said. “Smyrna is the same way — they keep growing.”

Dover will field four baseball teams each in the 9- to 12-year-old Minors and Majors divisions and four in Peewee combining boys and girls. Six teams are playing T-ball, boys and girls involved. About 215 players have registered so far, with 13 and older kids not signing up until April.

“We’ve got a shortage of players 9 and under,” Mr. Leslie said. “They just aren’t there.”

There will be one Minor and one Major softball team in Dover this spring, and the league is reaching out to other community’s to play games.

According to Mr. Leslie, Dover LL color brochures were sent home to all schools in the Capital District, along with private schools, and 100 roadside signs were posted. The president estimated that 90 percent of entrances to neighborhoods had a sign advertising signups.

Playing inter-league games detracts from the community feel local participation, Mr. Murray said.

“Not having one central place to play all games is tough on everyone’s schedule,” he said of Marydel-Hartly’s need to travel.

Larger leagues

In past season openers, the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend league in southern New Castle County has billed itself as one of the largest organizations in the country. President Steve Lappert said M.O.T. has a little over 1,000 softball and baseball players this spring, more than a third of then 8 years old and younger.

“The community continues to grow and while there are more and more other options out there to do other things, we’ve worked hard to improve the training of coaches and kids to improve the product,” Mr. Lappert said.

“We couldn’t do it without the strong support of volunteers within the community. The league wants families new to the program to have a great first experience, and make sure they choose to come back for years to come.”

M.O.T. Major Baseball has nine teams for its mostly 11- and 12-year-old division, with a combined 16 Minors and Rookies for 8- to 10-year-olds.
The 13- to 16-year-old Junior-Senior Baseball division will field five or possibly six squads.

Softball-wise, M.O.T. has five teams each in Minors and Majors and four in Seniors.

Smyrna-Clayton Player Agent Tina Leager reported about 470 baseball players, about the same as 2017. The breakdown included:

• 12 T-ball teams ages 4 to 6.

• 8 pitching machine teams ages 6 to 7

• 5 Rookie coach pitch teams ages 7 to 8

• 9 Minors teams ages 9 to 11

• 6 Majors teams ages 10 to 12

• 5 Junior-Seniors teams ages 13 to 16.

“Our older kids teams have dropped just a bit,” Ms. Leager said. “Lacrosse is getting bigger here and there’s more competition and opportunities to do other things.”

The Smyrna-Clayton Little Lass softball program is up about teams this season, with 250 girls registered in four divisions.

Through the efforts of league Vice President Aaron Weisenberger and parent Charles Huester, Little Lass received grants from Little League and the Baseball Tomorrow Fund. The money was used to purchase lights for the Senior Division field and upgrade all fields “for the ultimate playing experience,” President Jennifer Weisenberger said.

“We are hoping the phrase ‘If you built it, they will come’ will hold true and the Smyrna Clayton Little Lass softball league will continue to grow for years to come.”

Opening day is set for April 14, and Little Lass players can look forward to 1996 Gold Medal-winning softball player Dionna Harris as a guest speaker.
In addition to a 9 a.m. parade, “We will also have numerous raffles, a food truck, in addition to our already fabulous concession stand, and face painting,” Ms. Weisenberger said.

Camden-Wyoming President Matt Knight said “We are happy with our numbers.” The registration breakdown of just over 700 players included:

• 13 softball teams (6 minor, 4 major, 3 junior/senior)

• 46 baseball teams. (14 t ball, 10 pee wee, 5 aa minor, 6 aaa minor, 6 major, 5 senior)

• 130 t ball players

• Almost 50 players in the 25th anniversary season of the Challenger Division.

“We just try to keep the facility and fields in good condition,” Mr. Knight said.

“We feel we have a great community atmosphere with the traditions that many of us know and pass on here at CWLL.

“A lot of us involved played and grew up at cwll and now our kids are here.”

Also, Mr. Knight said, “This season we upgraded our uniforms for every player by getting nicer jersey’s and hats.”

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