More register to 'play ball'

March 21, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE

Darian Kamara choked up on the aluminum bat and surprised her mother with how many times she hit the baseball at American Little League tryouts last week.

Darian, 8, enjoys baseball, especially batting, but didn't play in Little League last year, said Darian and her mother, Melissa Kamara.

"She's always liked it, but the schedule was better for us this year," said Kamara, 31, of Hagerstown.

That's because the season for her preferred sport, basketball, ended in time for Darian to play Little League this year, Kamara said.


Competition with other sports such as soccer and activities such as video games is one reason some Little League officials think registration for Little League declined in the past decade.

The situation seemed to stabilize two years ago, but league officials have noticed more children signing up this year, said Susie Hoffman, district administrator for District I in Maryland.

"We're seeing a resurgence. We're seeing the numbers start to grow," Hoffman said. "Leagues are publicizing it more, making it a very positive experience for the kids."

'Greatest game ever'

As a mother, Hoffman said she thinks Little League provides children with fresh air, exercise, lessons about teamwork, memories and dirty cleats.

"It's about all that good stuff that childhood is made of," said Hoffman, who lives in Funkstown.

As district administrator, "I think it's about offering the opportunity to boys and girls to play the single greatest game ever," Hoffman said.

Hoffman estimated 2,090 children had preregistered to play Little League in one of the county's 12 leagues. Final registration numbers were not available yet.

In her first year as district administrator for Little League in Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties, Hoffman said she didn't have actual statistics available for the past decade, but some local Little League officials agreed with Hoffman that participation seemed to be turning around.

Federal Little League registration declined each year for eight years until this season, when about 207 youths signed up, President Bill Proctor said. That compared with 203 children last year and 275 children eight years ago.

While Little League officials point to competition with other sports and activities, they also mentioned other possible reasons for the decline in participation and why it could be turning around.

Proctor and others said there appear to be more children in local communities.

Hancock Little League President Shannon McKinley said there must have been a "baby boom" in the area because another tee ball team had to be added this year, giving the league six tee ball teams.

Conococheague Little League President Walter Williams said registration had dropped below 200 youths before he took over as leader of the league five years ago, but approximately 315 youths signed up for this season.

Attracting players

Williams and Proctor both said they've stepped up advertising in recent years.

"You got to get out there and do a little work or you're not going to get these kids here," Williams said.

Proctor said his league started a phone bank last year in which league officials called the youths that participated the previous year to remind them to sign up.

His league also used newspaper ads and fliers.

For the first time, Federal Little League posted signs in North End yards to remind people of registration dates, Proctor said.

Sharpsburg Little League had approximately 135 children sign up to play, compared with 147 last year, President Doug Moyers said.

Moyers was concerned in February about whether he would have enough kids to have four major division teams, the minimum amount required by Little League.

Moyers said he obtained a waiver permitting his league to have three major division teams. The league should have enough players in that age bracket next year to go back to having four major division teams, he said.

Redistricting on the way

The upcoming redistricting of league boundaries, to take effect for the 2005 season, could help increase Sharpsburg's registration levels, Moyers said.

With the government buying farmland to protect the Antietam National Battlefield area, there is little or no development around Sharpsburg, Moyers said.

In the western part of the county, McKinley is looking forward to redistricting.

McKinley is hoping the organization will redistrict and allow more children from eastern Allegany County to play in Hancock's league. Last year, a few children from that area were granted special permission to play in Hancock's league because they were attending Hancock schools, she said.

Like school redistricting, Little League redistricting can be a "huge deal" for some families because parents who grew up playing in a league want their children to play in the same league, Hoffman said.

Youths can apply for a waiver to remain in their league, Hoffman said. The new boundaries would affect new registrants.

Redistricting is among the topics to be discussed at Little League International's Congress in Virginia Beach, Va., on April 16-19, Hoffman said.

Another issue will be whether 12-year-old children automatically should play in the major division, she said.

In Little League, children ages 9 to 12 try out to determine who makes major division teams. Once the major division team spots are taken, the remaining children play in the minor division, along with 8-year-olds who have just moved up from the tee ball division, Hoffman said.

"There is an emotional and a physical maturity that most children reach by that age (12) that they really should be playing with children of their own age" in the major division, Hoffman said.

"A lot of times, you don't know what children are capable of until you surround them with a higher skill level," Hoffman said.

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