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One Step at a Time: Louisiana District 3 Administrator Michael Marler Highlights the Freedom of Operating Local Little Leagues

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT (Feb. 15, 2011) – Little League Baseball and Softball is the largest youth sports organization in the world in part because nearly 7,500 leagues have built programs that are customized for their communities and neighborhoods. Michael Marler, Louisiana District 3 Administrator, has found that the rural areas served by Little League in his district respect the program’s rules and regulations, while enjoying the autonomy to make their league, their own.

Mr. Marler works as a draftsman for the city of Alexandria. It seems fitting that in his Little League life, he’s been responsible for building relationships with communities looking for a better way to operate their youth baseball and softball leagues.

“I got into the program for the fun, and to be a part of the excitement enjoyed by the kids,” Mr. Marler, a former Little Leaguer umpire, said. “I’ve been a Little League volunteer for 11 years and district administrator for two years. The first thing I wanted to do was to get all the paperwork in line with Little League’s rules.”

After three years on his local league’s board of directors, one season as league president and five more working at the district level, Mr. Marler was elected as district administrator in 2008. A former umpire, who one day hopes to again umpire Little League games and represent his district at a Little League Baseball World Series, has made significant strides in bringing in organized leagues affiliated with other programs.

Louisiana District 3 presently has five chartered Little Leagues, with the possibility of a sixth coming into the program this year or next.

“When I was elected DA, a lot of people thought I was just a young guy with a lot of power,” Mr. Marler, 28, said. “I made personal visits to each league, earned their trust and opened the lines of communication. Now our district staff organizes a meeting with league presidents every quarter of the year, with two of those meetings open for anyone to attend.”

Being transparent and accessible has worked for Mr. Marler and his five-member staff, which include Assistant District Administrators Tom Johnson and Phillip Tassin, and Umpire Consultant Robert Gadling.

Equal with accessibility is education, and to that end the Louisiana District 3 staff hosts rules clinics for all of the umpires and league officials throughout the district.

“Everyone knows they can call me anytime they need to,” Marler said. “I promised my leagues more personal involvement and attention to their leagues, so we get out to our leagues at least once a week.”

District 3 is rural, meaning plenty of time on the road between leagues, but the internal growth of each league has been as important as expanding the Little League footprint in central Louisiana. Each of the five leagues have enough teams to play “in-house” at the Major Baseball Division and below, while the Teenage divisions do interleague.

Within in the last year, Mr. Marler and his staff have chartered a softball-only program (Vidalia Girls Softball Little League), which is the latest organized league in the district to align with Little League.

“On my way back from Lexington last year, I got the call about Vidalia,” Mr. Marler, who was working to bring Vidalia in while he was attending the 25th Little League International Congress in Kentucky, said. “The people in Vidalia were fed up with their affiliation at the time and decided to join Little League.

“I created a presentation that lists the number of teams in our district by league, the registration costs, charter fees, insurance fees and all of the things on the Little League charter application,” Mr. Marler said. “The freedom to run their league was important and we were able to bring in 700 players through this league.”

The leagues in Mr. Marler’s district average between 300 and 400 players and each charters tee ball through Big League baseball, with some having softball programs. The regular season opens in the middle of April and typically provides for a 16-game schedule. Each league enters the Little League International tournament in several divisions.

These local leagues have experienced growth in all age groups. Mr. Marler feels this is a testament to their willingness to operate the program in way that best serves their communities. The pride of “ownership,” has resulted in these local leagues enjoying a certain “freedom” to make an experience that is safe and positive for its players and adult volunteers.

“I was a little hesitant at first about talking to leagues that were already affiliated with other programs,” Mr. Marler said. “Then, once I thought it out, I decided the worst they could do is tell me ‘no.’

“I’ve tried to go to areas where there was organized youth baseball and softball, but no Little League,” Mr. Marler said. “Just like I did, I want them thinking about Little League, and what it could offer. Once their thinking about making the switch, I can step up the pace.”

Information, education and access to Little League’s opportunities and resources are reassuring to prospective new leagues. Mr. Marler and his staff encourage conversations and welcome questions, because good communication makes for a healthy relationship between district and league.

Discussions vary, and each league has its own unique set of circumstances, but individuality seems to be a plus in Louisiana District 3. Volunteers give freely of their time. To the credit of the district staff, these leagues have embraced the freedom and autonomy to run their leagues, and done so with the best interests of their communities in mind.

When it comes to developing new leagues and keeping the existing ones happy, Mr. Marler’s one piece of advice to his fellow DAs is: “You’ve got to hit the pavement and talk to everybody. Stay on them. And remind all of your leagues about what makes Little League special.”