Big League age division eliminated in baseball, softball

DOVER — Big League baseball and softball has been a summer tradition in downstate Delaware for years.

While Dover hosted the Big League Eastern Regional in baseball, Lower Sussex had started hosting Big League’s World Series in softball.

But, on Friday, Little League announced that it was doing away with its Big League age division in both sports.

Instead, Little League officials said they will concentrate their focus on players from four to 16 years old.

The Big League division was for players ages 16-18.

In a press release, Little League said players in the 17-18 age group make up less than one percent of its total participation. That number hadn’t shown any growth or decline in the past 15 years.

“When thoroughly reviewing all our offerings, the Little League International Board of Directors felt that this restructuring was the best way to focus our efforts where the Little League program can make its most positive impact at the younger levels of the game,” Little League President and CEO Stephen Keener said in a statement.

The vote to cap participation at 16 years old was made in a vote by Little League’s board of directors on Friday.

Downstate teams have had their share of success in Big League over the years.

Kent County all-star baseball teams have won the Big League East title each of the last two seasons. In softball, Kent County’s District I edged Sussex County’s District III, 1-0, for the Big League World Series championship in 2014.

The Little League press release said that Lower Sussex will continue to host the Senior League softball World Series, as it has done since 2013.
But participation in Big League baseball’s regular season had dwindled in Kent County over the years.

District I had only six teams this year, with Camden-Wyoming fielding two squads. The other teams were from Dover, Felton-Harrington, Middletown and Smyrna-Clayton.

Thirty years ago, Camden-Wyoming had three Big League squads while Dover had two, along with teams from the other towns.

In its press release, Little League officials said, “Over the past decade, the landscape of youth sports, specifically youth baseball and softball, has shifted, where more opportunities exist for teenagers, especially for players 17 and 18 years old, than ever before. As such, Little League International, at the urging of its local league volunteers, parents, and constituents, began to look at the structure of its entire organization to ensure that it is providing the best support for its local Little League programs.”

The Senior League World Series will move from Bangor, Maine to Easley, S.C., which had hosted the Big League World Series.
Little League said it will be “actively pursuing the goal of providing more opportunities for younger participants in the Little League International Tournament.”

The statement said that Little League may provide “additional levels of play at the 8- to 10-year-old and 9- to 11-year-old tournaments for both baseball and softball. It is also considering expanding the number of teams in the Little League Baseball and Softball World Series tournaments.

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