Small Town, Big Game: Robbinsville, N.J., Is a Model for Little League Softball® Success
Robbinsville is an unassuming community of around 14,000 in Mercer County, N.J., but in the world of Little League®, it has become synonymous with softball success. Robbinsville Little League is the 2014 Little League Softball® World Series champion and is a model for local leagues aspiring to balance old-time fun and elite achievement.
A staple in the New Jersey Little League Softball State Tournament and a regular at the Eastern Region Tournament in Bristol, Conn., Robbinsville Little League’s Major Division Softball résumé is impressive. The league has won the state title, and reached the regional level six times and played in the Little League Softball World Series four times in the past six years. This past summer’s championship run resulted in the league’s first World Series title and plenty of accolades.
How is it that this tiny town, with a Little League that averages around 400 players, including 160 girls, continues to excel against the best Little League Softball teams, while keeping travel ball from pilfering its best players?
The volunteers living the experience have their opinions and the history to back them up.
“The league and our coaches give them the time and the tools, and the girls make themselves better,” said Jerry Chmielewski, Robbinsville Little League President. “Our girls play travel ball, but what they do is use the travel ball experience to make their Little League team better.”
After registering in November, girls entering Robbinsville Little League have their own Tee Ball, Coach-Pitch and Player-Pitch divisions before moving up the Major Division. Each year, the three Major Division teams completely re-draft their rosters and play a 16-to-18 game schedule that includes games with other leagues in the district.
Weekly specialization clinics are operated by the league’s volunteer coaches throughout January and February. The clinics are optional, but nearly all the girls attend because they are social events that are equally fun and challenging, especially for the younger players.
“We make sure we are giving opportunities to all of the girls and that begins with convincing them not to be intimidated about playing,” said Mr. Chmielewski, who has been League President for five years. “We have good coaches and we tell the parents and the girls that everyone is involved and their friends are here, so come give it a try.”
There are 14 members on the Robbinsville Little League Board of Directors and the constant message to the entire league is: Have fun and do your best, but when the game is over, it’s over. That mantra has been lived out on the field as the softball program’s reputation has grown throughout District 12, the state of New Jersey and all of Little League Softball.
“Without the support of a strong Board of Directors and the dedication of the parents and the players, the program would not be successful,” said Barry Haftel, New Jersey District 12 Assistant Administrator for Softball and a former Vice President of Softball in Robbinsville Little League.
He sees much of the success of the Robbinsville Little League and the other softball programs in the district as a testament to the local leagues being willing to strike a balance between travel ball and Little League.
“What we’ve got to do is have the parents understand how travel ball and Little League can be mixed,” said Mr. Haftel, a softball coach for 11 years. “The inexperienced parent will listen to the best argument, which means we have to make sure our communication level is as effective as it can be.”
The balance that Mr. Haftel speaks of must be established early. The way he sees it, the pre-teen girls learn to love softball when they are young and grow into the sport through the age of 12. Of note, Robbinsville Little League also produced a Junior Division state champion in 2006.
Robbinsville Little League shows that on-field success comes from players, parents, and volunteers working hard, dedicating time, and having a lot of fun. Mr. Haftel and Mr. Chmielewski believe that being open, forthright, and direct has been critical to parents and players believing in the league.