Volunteers in Missouri Plan Museum Dedicated to local Little League Softball Program
“Everyone has been very supportive,” Mr. Blinzler said of the museum project. “We look at the museum as an incentive for girls to strive to be better players and people by learning this history of softball. Part of the museum’s theme is for kids to come in and look back to when their mothers used to play.”
This 1,000-square foot building will commemorate the Joplin Little League Softball program that was started in 1975 by Vivian Groom. Through pictures, artifacts and various displays, the museum will chronicle the more than 750 softball teams that have played in the league since its inception.
“This is a good program because it’s always been for the kids no matter how good they are,” Mr. Blinzler said. “(Joplin Little League Softball) was a solid program almost immediately. In this area, softball kind of took off.”
In the softball program’s first five years, the number of teams grew from six to 35, and by 1980, a new facility was necessary to accommodate the growth. With the same commitment and enthusiasm that was displayed when Mrs. Groom started the softball program, the Blinzlers took it upon themselves to nurture the program through construction of a new softball-only facility.
“In 1980, (Joplin Little League) built a new park that I designed and spent much of my time putting together,” Mr. Blinzler said. “Eventually, the league decided to name (the complex) after my wife, Freda, and me. I guess once you put so much time in, and you get so involved, it’s kind of in the family.”
Blinzler Park, site of the museum, is a five-field complex and has been home to Little League Softball Central Region Tournament for the past eight years. Mr. Blinzler, assistant district administrator for Missouri District 2, is the tournament’s director.
“During the regional tournament, the museum was open and visitors thought it was neat,” Mr. Blinzler said. “Most everyone who went through said they had never seen anything like it.”
Mrs. Blinzler has been the president of Joplin Little League softball since Mrs. Groom stepped down in 1978. The Blinzler’s daughters, Donna and Diane, both played softball in the league, while their son, James, is a Joplin Little League Baseball graduate.
“Five years ago I started thinking about retiring one of these days,” Mr. Blinzler said. “When I left, I wanted to leave something that marked the beginning of the program until now, so I thought it would be nice to preserve the history of the program.”
Some of the items currently on display are photos of all the teams that have played Joplin Little League softball and other softball souvenirs from Joplin Little League graduates.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff already,” Mr. Blinzler said. “Every couple of weeks someone gives me something that could go into the museum. My goal is to put something in from every team who has played on the facility.”
Mrs. Groom, who fully supports the museum project, is gathering memorabilia from the first three years of the program. Mr. Blinzler estimates about 11 of the 32 years of Joplin Little League pictorial history have been collected, along with photos documenting the evolution of Blinzler Park.
Flora Stansberry, the only woman to umpire behind home plate in the Little League Baseball World Series championship game in Williamsport, is a native of Seneca, Mo., and has donated some of her personal effects for a display.
The museum also will house items that highlight the success of scholastic and collegiate softball teams throughout Missouri, as well as any other artifacts that showcase the sport that has come to mean so much to the Blinzlers.
Always on the lookout for new and different items, Mr. Blinzler said he has received signed softballs, photos and other memorabilia from United States Olympic Softball gold medalists Michele Smith and Lisa Fernandez. He also has procured items from the 1992 NCAA Division II National Champion Missouri Southern softball team, and the 2006 Little League Baseball World Series champions from Mattawan (Mich.) Little League.
Even though the “welcome” sign has not officially been put out, and the first permanent display has yet to be placed, Mr. Blinzler said, “I’m already taking notes on people to get items from in the future. This will be our winter project and by spring, I figure we’ll have a lot of stuff to see.”
To date, the museum does not have a formal name. Mr. Blinzler expects that detail to be worked out before the Joplin Little League holds its season-opening ceremonies in April 2007.
Anyone wishing to donate softball artifacts and memorabilia to the Blinzler’s museum can contact Percy Blinzler, at: 417-624-9316. Information on Little League Softball, or the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum, can be found by logging on to www.littleleague.org.
Percy and Freda Blinzler of Joplin, Mo., have been volunteers in Joplin Little League for more than 30 years. During that time, each has held many positions within the league and there dedication has been recognized. Mr. Blinzler was the primary figure in construction of the league’s softball-only Blinzler Field complex, and currently, along with his wife, is collecting memorabilia, artifacts and other historic items to place in a museum that Joplin Little League has built to commemorate the league’s rich softball history.