Spring sports tradition rich in history

Rockford Little League.

Rockford Little League.

Rockford Little League hoping for help this year

by AL PRATT

Spring is in the air. The sun is a bit warmer. Flowers are starting to emerge from their winter hiding places. More people can be seen strolling along Main Street and Squires Street… and perhaps just as evident, it is time for baseball.

We aren’t talking about the Whitecaps or the Tigers. We mean the baseball that is even more visible and more important in neighborhoods all across our area-the Rockford Little League, (RLL), which has been active behind the scenes since the last out was made last summer in preparation for this year’s season.

The story of the Rockford Little League is an interesting one. The league offers a variety of t-ball, baseball, and softball options for over 800 boys and girls ranging in age from five to 18. It is governed and operated by an eleven member volunteer board of directors who serve year around. Board members come from a variety of backgrounds. This year’s board includes an emergency room physician, a tool and die worker, a day care worker, a salesman, and an IT director, among others, but they all share one thing-a dedication and commitment to providing the best possible athletic experience for area youngsters. Signups have officially ended for the 2009 season, but late signups may be possible based on availability. Warren Lanphear, RLL president urges anyone who may have a youngster who would still like to play, to contact him at (616) 874-5429.  Every effort will be made to find a spot for interested players.  There is a fee for participation, but wherever possible, allowances will be made to accommodate players, regardless of their ability to pay.

Practices began on March 30.  A full schedule of games will get underway on Saturday, May 2. The Rockford Little League is chartered by the National Little League. This affiliation offers advantages ranging from secondary insurance coverage to rules designed to help ensure player safety.  The rules cover everything from pitch counts to protect young arms and equipment specifications, to well defined age and residency requirements designed to provide equal opportunities for all area youngsters.

The National Little League also gives our young players the opportunity to compete for a spot in a national tournament at season’s end. It is that tournament that culminates with the Little League World Series that is nationally televised every August.

The RLL provides most equipment needed for its operation including catcher’s gear, bases, bats, balls, and helmets, all meeting the rigid Little League requirements.  Players use their own baseball mitts.

To help make participation possible for as many area youngsters as possible, The Squire is proud to announce a drive to collect baseball mitts to be given to players who may not be able to purchase one.

Local residents are asked to check their garages and car trunks for mitts that they no longer need or use.

The mitts can be dropped off at The Squire offices during normal business hours, Monday through Friday,
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  They will be given to the Rockford Little League for distribution to youngsters needing them.

Scheduling for the league is difficult, but will be simplified by the addition of more fields in the near future.  Thanks to community support for funds needed to provide needed upgrades, the Rockford Public Schools will be improving many existing athletic facilities and adding new ones including a greatly enlarged field facility at East Rockford Middle School. The RLL will partner with the schools in this venture by building a concession stand and storage facility that will not only serve the needs of players and spectators, but will also eliminate the need for a rented storage facility that the league currently uses.

The RLL depends on hundreds of volunteers to handle duties from coaching to helping with concessions.

Volunteers are always needed

A particular need this year is for a concession stand manager.  The league is prepared to pay a stipend for that job.

There is also always the need for umpires. Umpires are not used for T-ball or coach pitched games, but are needed for minor, major, and junior league games whose players ages nine through 14. An umpire can be an adult or anyone age 12 or over.  Young umpires will only officiate at games played by younger players. All umpires are paid a fixed fee for each game worked.  The fee varies depending on the age of the players.  This could be a nice opportunity for anyone interested in earning some extra money without a huge time commitment and while enjoying the outdoors and helping a worthy cause.

Rockford is a great place to raise a family. The opportunities offered to local youngsters by the schools, the churches, and the community, are many and varied.   Among the best of those opportunities is the chance to play in the Rockford Little League.

Making the league run smoothly is a huge task, requiring the coordination of approximately 70 teams and over 800 youngsters on over 20 fields. Giving them all the chance to answer the age old call to ‘PLAY BALL” makes it all worthwhile to the dedicated volunteers.

The RLL also is also proud to have the support of the community in the form of sponsorships by area businesses.  These sponsors, along with the army of volunteers make it possible for area youngsters to learn about being a member of a team, to develop baseball and interpersonal skills, and to experience the joy of hearing their friends and family cheer for them as they hit the ball off the tee or make a diving catch in the outfield.

Listen for the crack of a bat at a baseball field in your neighborhood. Stop to watch, even if just for a few minutes.  The enthusiasm of the players, the fans, and the coaches will be evident, and you’ll leave with a greater understanding of how lucky we are to live in Rockford.

If you would like to be a part of this exciting and rewarding project by sponsoring a team, volunteering in any capacity, or by managing the concession stand for 2009, please contact Warren Lanphear or any board member.

More information as well as board member names and phone numbers can be seen at the league’s website: www.rockfordll.org.

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