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Enrollment in Little League is on the decline

Enrollment in Little League is on the decline

April 11, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

Little League fans might notice fewer kids in the dugout on Saturday, opening day for most ball clubs in Washington County.

Nationally, over the past decade, Little League has experienced the biggest drop in participation since it was founded in 1939, according to the organization's records. Washington County leagues have seen their numbers dip as well, said Rick Carter, district administrator for the little leagues in Western Maryland.

League presidents blame year-round soccer, video games and what they say is a heightened desire among youngsters to do nothing at all.

"There's just so much more for kids to choose from," Carter said. "I'm not so sure that's a bad thing, because we get the kids who really want to play baseball."

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Nationally, Little League participation went from 2.9 million in 1997 - a record high number of participants - to 2.6 million in 2007, a decline of roughly 12 percent, according to data provided by national Little League spokesman Chris Downs.

Most of the 6,000 youngsters who signed up for the 12 Washington County leagues this season have season openers on Saturday, April 12. Clear Spring, Conococheague and South Mountain little leagues opened on April 5.

Even though the season is just getting started, Lisa Bennett, president of National Little League of Hagerstown, said she is worried about having enough kids for next season.

"We've been struggling," Bennett said.

She said there was a time when the Hagerstown league had 300 players. "We have 152 this year," Bennett said. "We'd like at least 180."

Staci Boward, president of Halfway Little League, said her league did away with its senior league and one of its major league teams because there weren't enough kids. Boward said the league has around 180 kids this season, down 10 kids from last year.

"But it's not as bad as it was two years ago, when we had 170 kids," Boward said.

According to data provided by Downs, Washington County Little League participation declined 10 percent since 2005, when there were 6,705 players. Downs said he was only able to provide data as far back as 2005.

Some league presidents said they've managed to hold their numbers steady.

"My numbers aren't going down," said Walter Williams, president of Conococheague Little League in Williamsport.

He said participation averages 300 kids. "I don't look for it to get any bigger," he said.

Others amped up recruiting efforts in order to prevent a decline. Most leagues recruit by distributing fliers and putting up posters.

"We figured if it happened to them, it could happen to us," said Wink Suder, president of West End Little League.

So this year, West End distributed more fliers, in "places where there were a lot of kids," Suder said.

The club had 200 participants, up from the 165 it had last year.

Baseball still has its fans. Boonsboro mom Michelle Turnbaugh said her family's life revolves around baseball.

Her kids - Brandon, 11, Ashleigh, 8, and Ryan, 6 - play with South Mountain Little League. Both she and her husband are involved with the league.

There's a game at least four days each week. Mom has to consult a color-coded calendar - each kid gets a color - to determine who's playing. It takes a lot of time for players and for parents.

"If the kids don't really love playing baseball, it's a huge time commitment for the family," Turnbaugh said.

Turnbaugh said her oldest son, who's been playing baseball since he was 4, tried another sport when he was 5 or 6, but "he didn't really love it."

"Baseball's it," Turnbaugh said.

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