Little League® Sandlot Fun Days Excite, Inspire During Pandemic Doldrums

Amanda Hanson Kibler with Porter

Where there is a will, there is a way is cliché, but for Woodstock-Edinburg Little League in Virginia District 3, it proved prophetic to its league and community during the summer of 2020. League President Amanda Kibler shares the league’s experiences participating in the newly-launched Little League® Sandlot Fun Days program.

The 2020 spring season started for us during the first week of March, but it was cut short by the intrusion of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. We originally thought we could pick up in early April, but then later learned that wasn’t going to happen. After the start of the COVID-19 quarantine, schools were closed and our kids were just sitting at home, so the Woodstock-Edinburg Little League (WELL) Board of Directors held a meeting early in June. At that meeting, it was overwhelmingly decided that we wanted to see the kids back at our league’s facility, Riverview Park, and Little League International had provided a fantastic opportunity with its new Little League Sandlot Fun Days program.

Our league followed the Coronavirus guidelines set forth by Little League and the Governor of Virginia. As the Board set out to create our return-to-play plan it was obvious that Sandlot Fun Days offered a wonderful opportunity for the children to get back to the field and enjoy being with their friends again.

Starting on Saturday, June 13, we designated times for each division to have Sandlot Fun Days at Riverview Park. The evening before, Board Members helped with sanitizing the field facilities, and designating social distancing spaces in the dugouts for players, and family boxes around the fields for people to stand or sit in during the game.

The field looked a little different, but it didn’t take away from the smiles everyone saw on that Saturday. The children were so happy and excited to be back together. Even more exciting was that the thought of Sandlot Fun Days didn’t make the kids nervous or anything (as sometimes changes can be hard). The kids went with it and were smiling all day.

They didn’t care which team they were on, or that they had to stand in the box they were assigned too. The atmosphere was relaxed, and the unstructured games were all about fun. If someone struck out, they didn’t get upset, they just tried again when they got another chance.

After Saturday’s games, the Board realized we needed to have more Sandlot Fun Days. Over the next four weeks, we scheduled games for each division throughout the week. Sandlot Fun Days were now open to all our league’s divisions, Tee Ball through the Senior Division.

This year, our league consisted of 315 players and we had a little more than 200 that participated in Sandlot Fun Day games. There were many aspects of Sandlot Games that the players enjoyed. It gave the kids the opportunity to grow within themselves. The older kids were selected as team captains and teams worked well together in making their lineup and putting each player into positions (they all took turns being in the infield and the outfield).

Woodstock Edinburg Little League collage

The players who caught really enjoyed being the catcher because they served as the umpire as well and were able to make the calls behind the plate. It was amazing to see … There was no arguing.

The coaches were no longer coaches, they were adults that were just helping as volunteers. It was all positive and created good memories for everyone. As League President, that is what I have always been about – It’s not about winning or losing, it’s the memories that these kids have that make Little League special and unique because they belong to them.

My son, Porter Kibler has been playing Little League since he was four years old. Now, a 12-year-old Major Division baseball player, he really enjoyed his Sandlot Fun Days experience. Porter said to me, “There was no stress while having Sandlot games, it was just fun. Even after striking out, I didn’t get upset, because I knew it was for fun.”

Porter added, “It was nice for everyone to play different positions and play with different kids.” After captaining a team during a Sandlot Fun Days game, he said, “At first, it was a little hard, but then I figured out the managing stuff and really enjoyed it.” He said to me that he learned how difficult being a coach can be because of the hard decisions you must make from time to time.

The Sandlot Fun Days program also gave Porter the opportunity to play on the upper division, the Little League Intermediate (50/70) Baseball games. “Playing up a division made me a little nervous, but I had a great time,” he said. Porter told me later, he was surprised he could hit the ball while playing in the upper division, and he hopes we have more Sandlot Games so he can play on the bigger field again.

Adysen Silvious, who is 12 years old and a Junior Division softball player, was asked about her experience with the Sandlot Fun Day games. “I loved it,” she said. “I’m so happy that our league was doing something. It was so exciting to get back on the field with my teammates and friends.”

A pitcher, Adysen said it was fun allowing the catcher to make the calls, instead of an umpire. “I felt a lot less pressure and could just go out on the mound and have fun,” she said. “I am extremely thankful to our league for giving my friends and teammates the experience.”

It truly was an amazing experience on many levels. Being part of the league for more than 10 years, I have never seen such a wonderful experience. The compliments to the league were countless from the parents and the players. I can honestly say, I was nervous with this idea that Little League recommended, but it truly was the best decision we could have made for the kids! I highly recommend all leagues take the opportunity to try Sandlot Fun Days!

As President of Woodstock Edinburg Little League, I thank everyone, the Town of Woodstock, the parents and families, the sponsors, the community and Little League International for allowing us to have this opportunity for these kiddos … Definitely, good memories!!

Amanda Kibler, Woodstock Edinburg Little League, Virginia District 3