Expanding the Little League Program, Retaining Players Is a Safe Bet If District Administrators Are Willing to ‘Go All In’ to Support their Leagues
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa., (Feb. 15, 2011) – Shannon Walker was elected as Ohio District 8 Administrator in 2008 following the passing of Michael Hackett, and in just two years has been at the forefront of a tremendous Little League expansion that has seen her district grow from 14 to 21 leagues, with two more new leagues expected to charter this year.
“I have excitement and enthusiasm for the Little League program,” Mrs. Walker, who was President of Moraine-West Carrollton Little League for three years prior to her DA election, said. “The district staff and I staying positive and engaged has been the greatest thing for our district. I have a motto: ‘We’re first among the best.’ That is my goal in everything I do in Little League.”
Motivation coupled with enthusiasm, and a supportive family, have made Mrs. Walker’s efforts remarkable and relevant to any District Administrator willing to accept and put in the countless volunteers hours required to thoroughly “sell” Little League.
“Little League is such a great organization, but you have to be able to sell it … You must believe in it,” Mrs. Walker said. “You’ve got to be all in, and my family is. They give me great strength, because I know being involved is not taking away from them.”
Among Mrs. Walker’s strengths is a seemingly endless surplus of knowledge and insight into the operation and maintenance of a local league. League President is just one of several titles that she has held during her 14 years as a Little League volunteer.
As she describes, there is no substitute for experience and effort.
“I’ve done every volunteer job in Little League and have a keen perception on each job because I’ve done it,” Mrs. Walker said. “It’s my job to set the tone for our district, but it’s up to all of us to make it happen and keep things progressing. I worked my way up through the league and I’ve been doing Little League for a long time. I’m immersed in the program and understand you have to go above and beyond what is expected.”
There are 14 counties in Mrs. Walker’s district, providing for a diverse ethnic and economic landscape. Her ability to relate to the various areas that have chartered Little League programs is a simple case of mending fences and building bridges.
Overcoming a past rift between League Presidents and the district staff has fostered a healthier work environment, while building trust. Enlisting the opinions of the league presidents has broadened the understanding of the unique needs of each league.
“You can always run a league, but the success depends on the level of commitment from the community,” Mrs. Walker said. “Make people be part of solution. I found out a long time ago, you have to sell, be excited, and put the time and work in to make the Little League experience the best it can be.
“People love to be part of something that is great,” Mrs. Walker said. “You must get young parents involved at lower levels right away. That’s your future. A solid league needs a strong parent base of volunteers, so to get those people to step up you must be willing to give of yourself and sacrifice.”
In her experience, Mrs. Walker said that in the areas where she has been able to start new leagues, finances have been the first concern. Many volunteer groups were under the impression that a Little League costs too much. She also found out that many people are quite protective of their league’s boundaries.
Dispelling misconceptions and providing an education has been efficiently accomplished said Mrs. Walker through the use of Little League “Year in the Life of Hometown Little League,” presentation.
The month-by-month breakdown provides a blueprint of sorts for a local league and through the course of the presentation answers questions and elevates concerns.
“The guidance that is given by Little League solves problems,” Mrs. Walker, who is a member of the Central Region Advisory Committee, said. “When someone sends me a new league inquiry I jump right on it. I get on the phone and set up a meeting. Building boundary maps for new leagues is always the biggest hiccup, because a non-affiliated league looking to join never wants to lose the kids it already has.”
In growing her district, Mrs. Walker was pleasantly surprised how many neighboring areas wanted to be a part of Little League. Through countless communications with prospective leagues, soon, neighboring communities also were calling.
“I often ask, ‘How will this move affect other leagues in our area? Do you think they want to jump onboard, too?’ I’ve found out that if one area goes Little League, they all go Little League. It’s contagious!”
Getting leagues started is only half way to success for Mrs. Walker and her staff. Having the new leagues thrive is the ultimate goal. To achieve autonomy and establish a sense of camaraderie amongst the various leagues, Ohio District 8’s Administrator said she is vigilant to make sure leagues have everything they need, by staying in constant contact with them.
“I give them guidance and advice, while reminding the boards why they are there,” Mrs. Walker said. “It’s important to empower the volunteers to get them excited about volunteering.”
On the administrative side, Mrs. Walker feels the respect she gets from leagues is due to the fact that she follows the Little League rulebook to the letter. “The League Presidents in my district do a great job running their leagues, but if they ask me a question, and I am not sure on something, I have complete confidence that I’ll get tremendous support from the regional staff.”
With re-election looming, Mrs. Walker continues toward her annual goal of bringing in two to three new leagues each year.
“I go through the first-year responsibilities step-by-step,” Mrs. Walker said. “It takes a lot of time, but by the time opening day arrives, I let out a big sigh of relief because I know the new league will be able to take the guidance and run with it.”
On any given day, to canvas all game sites in the district Mrs. Walker averages nearly four hours on the road. During the regular season, stops at each league site are common place, and the miles really add up during tournament play, yet she knows personal attention is one of the main reasons why the number of leagues has doubled in District 8.
“It’s a big job, but never let your constituent leagues see you sweat,” Mrs. Walker, offering advice to her fellow DAs, said. “To be a good leader and decision maker you must take the emotion out of things. Be straightforward and honest.”
Finally, Mrs. Walker strongly recommends serving as a league president first before running for District Administrator. “It’s is really helpful to know what a league president is going through.”
Mrs Walker expects to be involved in Little League for many years to come. Her son, Nick, 18, is a Little League graduate, who played up through Moraine-West Carrollton Little League’s Big League Baseball program. Her 12-year-old daughter, Hanna, is a Little League Softball player in Moraine-West Carrollton Little League, and her husband, Steve, is Moraine-West Carrollton Little League’s Umpire-In-Chief and has been on the league’s board of directors for seven years.