Developing ballplayers the Little League way
Wednesday meeting with district administrators sheds important light on Little League development


By Mark Rogoff

Little League Baseball, Incorporated is a non-profit organization whose mission is "to promote, develop, supervise, and voluntarily assist in all lawful ways, the interest of those who will participate in Little League Baseball and Softball."

A meeting of the minds took place Wednesday afternoon at Williamsport’s Radisson Hotel to continue this mission.

More than 50 District Administrators met with Little League President/CEO Stephen D. Keener, Director of League Development Dan Velte and League Development Manager Michael Legge to discuss the development of current and new Little Leagues.

The League Development department was created last fall to push the effort.

“I think people are open to us giving them materials to help grow the program, where as in the past we just said, ‘Do this and do that.’” Velte said. “Now we have the time and the man power to go out and get some additional materials that we can send to them.

“We can come out – as opposed to the regional director and assistant regional director, who may not have the time – and meet with three groups in three days, or come out and meet with some people who are thinking about leaving the program. We can pack up and go do that.”

Following Keener’s opening remarks, Velte and Legge made a presentation to the district administrators, who are Little League’s highest form of volunteers.

Velte and Legge went over a handful of success stories since the creation of the department, including the formation of six new leagues in the Kansas City, Missouri area. Other successful efforts include Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; and Jackson, Mississippi.

The main target in these cities and others is the local YMCA, which are, according to Velte, more than willing to partner up with Little League to get kids playing ball.

“Little League will provide the training for league officials and for managers and coaches,” Velte said of newly-formed leagues in association with YMCAs.

Minor league baseball teams are another catalyst for new leagues and upkeep of current ones, according to Velte. This effort is just getting underway, with local partnerships being built with the Altoona Curve, Harrisburg Senators, Trenton Thunder and Williamsport Crosscutters.

Little League advertisements are being placed in game programs, and there are scores of ticket fundraising opportunities at the games.

Make no mistake about it, the Little League Baseball World Series is the loudest voice Little League has. With almost unquantifiable exposure through ESPN and ABC, and all the local newspapers that cover the participating teams, Little League is able to make its statement loud and clear.

“We’ll probably have 300-500 requests for information during the World Series,” Velte said. “If someone requests information, we’re getting it out to them during the World Series. Whereas in the past, it had to be after the World Series after we organized everything. Now, after the Series we can call them and say, ‘You’ve got the material. What can we do to help you start a league?’”

In addition to television and print exposure, attendance at the 10-day tournament is a source of interested parties as well.

“The Series draws people to Little League,” said Velte. “Whether they know what we offer or not, the Series makes it accessible for us to get in front of people. We can tell them exactly all the things we offer. In my opinion, it makes them even more interested. They’re not just being allowed to play under the umbrella of Little League, but Little League is going to give them the training and education and materials and supplies.”

Velte and Legge opened the floor to questions after the presentation, and five big issues were brought up by the district administrators:
  • Create a Public Service Announcement that all local leagues can provide media outlets in their town
  • To use the Little League Baseball World Series even more to Little League’s advantage
  • Create year-round advertising, not just at the time of the World Series
  • More development help with the Junior League, Senior League and Big League divisions
  • Focus on the community aspect of Little League Baseball to bring back kids who have left Little League to play on all sorts of travel teams

The fifth suggestion came at the hands of District Administrator Douglas Brooks from District 2 in South Carolina. He oversees leagues in the cities of Summerville, Goose Creek and Belvedere, and firmly believes community pride is a critical tactic for Little Leagues across the country.

“The thing we want to emphasize is, ‘Hey, by playing Little League Baseball, you’re going to be playing for your community, for your friends and for your family,’” he said. “You’re going to be playing with your classmates, and all the games are local.”

Brooks notes that by playing Little League and not travel ball, children won’t have to trek 500 miles every weekend to a tournament.

Brooks’ efforts are being seen in the schools, where league officials have been handing out flyers and talking to kids and teachers. He would love to see Public Service Announcements in movie theaters on a year-round basis as well. Brooks has already put up five 20-foot-high billboards throughout his district.

“We try to keep the program out there year round,” he said. “One of the leagues, we’ll do something with the Christmas parade. Another league will give away (Thanksgiving) turkeys at schools.”

Brooks cites the city of Belvedere as an area making a strong effort.

“Belvedere is really pushing the program hard as far as getting the kids back in it,” he said. “Everybody there knows everybody. It makes a big difference. In Belvedere, everybody not only plays baseball on Saturday, but they go to church together on Sunday. It just all works together.”

Brooks, like all District administrators, is the heart of Little League volunteerism. They are on the front lines, promoting the good-natured spirit of Little League Baseball.

Wednesday’s gathering proved that.

“DAs are the most important part,” Velte said. “You can’t do it without them.”


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