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Let’s Go Outback and Play: Australia Charters Hundreds of Little League Baseball Teams for 2008 Season

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (Oct. 24, 2007) – Baseball has been played down under for decades, but beginning with the 2008 season, Little League Baseball will be what thousands of children in Australia will be playing.

This player is one of nearly 5,000 Australian children playing Little League Baseball. In Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and other cities in Australia, more than 400 newly-chartered teams have joined Little League for the 2008 season.

Through discussions with the Australian Baseball Federation (ABF), the governing body of baseball for the island nation, Little League International has helped develop a structure that has yielded several chartered leagues throughout the country.

Dan Velte, Little League’s director of League Development, recently traveled to Brisbane and Sydney to formally welcome the nation of nearly 21 million back to the Little League family. The 2003 season was the last time Little League had any chartered leagues in Australia, which claims cricket and rugby among its most popular sports.

Alan Connors, the national development manager for the ABF, has served as the liaison between the various club teams in Australia and Little League. His diligence in spreading Little League’s mission across Australia and the response from adult volunteers, who have embraced the role that Little League can play in the lives of children, has resulted in more than 400 teams entering the Little League program.

“There has been a massive groundswell of interest about Little League and the reception has been outstanding,” Mr. Connors, who will serve as Australia’s national Little League director, said. “Every amateur baseball club in Australia is on board with this movement and they will be the ones to run the local leagues.”

Mr. Connors is continually focused on education and marketing, as the country’s first Little League season in five year’s gets underway.

“My job so far has been to promote Little League in Australia,” Mr. Connors said. “I am trying to sell the sport against other sports like cricket, soccer and rugby. The presentation has included the creation of a series of posters, stickers, magazine advertising and television commercials promoting to potential Little Leaguers. We want the children to feel this is ‘their’ game.”

The Major Division will be the focus in this first season. In Brisbane, where Mr. Connors lives, there will be four leagues, totaling 35 teams. The teams will be for players league age 9-12, since that is the age group with largest concentration of potential players.

To date, the country has created district boundaries. The regular season and tournament formats also have been established. By next season, Mr. Connors will begin work on chartering Tee Ball teams, followed by the teenage divisions. By 2010, he expects to have all of these divisions playing under the Little League banner.

“Baseball has been played in Australia for quite a while, so I am not surprised by the excitement,” Mr. Connors said. “Our volunteer base is fairly good and we are lucky to have that. The challenge comes with providing a process to educate the volunteers, but the educational resources that Little League has are incredible.”

The relationship with Australia’s club teams and Little League as a community-based program is a good marriage, Mr. Connors said. Working with the Little League Development Department, the clubs operating the Little League programs will be shown ways of encouraging participation and growing their leagues.

Facilities are not a major concern, but Mr. Connors said that he is pushing for more professionally-built fields dedicated to Little League.

“The leagues are embracing the concept of playing Little League, and are receptive to building new fields for their teams to play on,” Mr. Connors said. “From a national point of view, this type of progress is a great marketing tool. From a local league perspective, being with Little League has made it easier to draw in players because the kids are hyped to be able to possibly make a trip to Williamsport for the Little League World Series.”

Mr. Connors has worked toward this season for seven years. Next month he will be meeting with the Australian Sports Commission, the governing body for all sports in the country. The goal of the meeting is to present a broad introduction and education into the Little League program.

“I feel that playing in Little League is something that stays with a child for a lifetime,” Mr. Connors said. “It is my responsibility to show what Little League brings to our country and how good a fit it is for Australia.”