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St. Maarten Little League in Netherlands Antilles Celebrating its 30-Year Anniversary in 2007

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (March 29, 2007) – St. Maarten first chartered with Little League 30 years ago, and in that time the small island in the Netherlands Antilles has become a role model of sorts for other leagues in the Caribbean Region.

 Erwin Richardson, above, headed a group that chartered the St. Maarten Little League in 1977. Mr. Richardson is now St. Maarten district administrator.

In recent years, the Netherlands Antilles, a cluster of islands off the Northern coast of South America, have garnered international attention with the success of Little League baseball teams from the neighboring island of Curaçao.

St. Maarten, current population nearly 50,000, chartered its only Little League program just months after league founder Erwin Richardson saw the enjoyment shared by children playing Little League baseball during a 1977 visit to Puerto Rico.

“When I saw the small children playing baseball, I fell in love with it,” Mr. Richardson, St. Maarten district administrator since 1986, said. “When I returned to St. Maarten in August of 1977, I inquired about chartering a Little League, and by September we were chartered.”

Mr. Richardson never served as league president. Instead, he chose to take on the duties of player agent. “I wanted to make sure things were done the right way,” he said.

Looking back over the 30 years since St. Maarten first chartered with Little League Baseball and Softball, Mr. Richardson said developing an organized youth sports program was born out of necessity.

“There was not much else for kids to do on the island at that time,” Mr. Richardson said. “Now we have several different youth sports groups on the island that all came from us organizing a Little League.”

Louis Brown, Camile Bailey, and other local supporters of the Little League concept joined Mr. Richardson in establishing the charter. Mr. Brown is now St. Maarten’s assistant district administrator, while Mr. Bailey served five years as league president (1977-82).

“All these years later, we don’t go out looking for children to play, they just keep coming,” Mr. Richardson said. “Now we are even running an instructional Little League program through the local schools.”

The 1978 season saw St. Maarten Little League charter teams in Little League and Senior League. This year, the island’s only Little League registered nearly 450 players and fields 21 teams with 15 players per team. The program charters nine teams in the Tee Ball Division, eight Little League Major Division baseball teams, and a total of eight teams through Junior, Senior and Big League baseball. Mr. Richardson said softball hasn’t taken hold yet, but the local group keeps trying.

“When we started our program, the children knew a little about the sport of baseball, but mostly we had to start from scratch,” Mr. Richardson said. “Still, the players and parents picked up the game very fast.”

The interest from the children and adults forged the growth of the league and has remained constant for three decades.

“When we started we asked a gentleman if we could use part of his property to play,” Mr. Richardson said. “He said, ‘Yes, just don’t destroy my windows.’ Then the boys started hitting the house so we had to find another place to play.”

The league moved down the road, but was displaced again a short time later. It wasn’t until 1982 when the league found a permanent home in Phillipsburg.

When the St. Maarten Little League ballpark was completed later that year, the league wanted to name the facility after Mr. Richardson, who humbly refused. The first game on the new field was a Latin America Region tournament game in the 1982 Little League Baseball International Tournament.

“All of the players in St. Maarten are interested in playing in the Little League World Series,” Mr. Richardson said. “We have not had a team reach a World Series yet, but that has not discouraged our youngsters.”

The managers and coaches in the league also have strived to be their best. One of the ways these adult volunteers have supported the efforts of the league is through attendance at Little League clinics and seminars. Mr. Richardson said over the years several of the league’s coaches have traveled to the United States for further skills training, as well as education on how to better work with children.

“Agnes Gumbs is the current league president,” Mr. Richardson said. “She, like a lot of our volunteers, has been with the league a long time even though they no longer have children in the league,” Mr. Richardson said.

The local support has been constant from the league’s beginning, as volunteers like Elvia Bailey, wife of the league’s first president, continues to give freely of her time. Mrs. Bailey is concession stand coordinator, and also has the responsibility of organizing housing when the league hosts international tournament games.

Since being elected district administrator more than 20 years ago, Mr. Richardson has involved his entire family. His wife, Amelia, was a constant figure in the early days of the league, and all six of Mr. Richardson’s children (four boys, two girls) have graduated from the program.

Joining Mrs. Gumbs on the St. Maarten Little League board of directors are: Elmora Pantophlet (vice president); Alfonso Blijden (secretary and player agent); Sherlin Boyrard (treasurer); John Hodge (assistant treasurer); Sidonie Gibs, Patricia Philips and Altagracia Williams.

St. Maarten is an island in the Netherlands Antilles, located near the northern coast of South America. St. Maarten Little League is the only Little League program on the island. The league has 450 players and charters 21 teams playing Tee Ball up through Big League Baseball.