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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : sports : sports January 25, 2015


4/7/2013 12:16:00 AM
Prescott Little League opens its 64th season
League maintains strength despite 21st-century obstacles
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily CourierA representative of each division in the Prescott Little League recites the PLLís pledge during Saturday morningís opening ceremomies at Bill Vallely Field.
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier
A representative of each division in the Prescott Little League recites the PLLís pledge during Saturday morningís opening ceremomies at Bill Vallely Field.
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily CourierIndy Holdsworth, 11, with the majors team All Star Sports, waves to the crowd during Prescott Little League's opening ceremomies Saturday.
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier
Indy Holdsworth, 11, with the majors team All Star Sports, waves to the crowd during Prescott Little League's opening ceremomies Saturday.
Doug Cook
The Daily Courier

PRESCOTT - Established in 1950 by the late Bill Vallely, Prescott Little League has flourished for more than six decades thanks to the support of dedicated volunteers, local businesses, the city, and family members who appreciate America's pastime.

Under bright, sunny skies on Saturday morning at Lower Vallely Field, the league conducted its annual opening day ceremonies to introduce its 44 teams - including those in the tee ball, coach-pitch, minors, majors and junior/senior divisions - for the 2013 season.

More than 500 children are competing in Prescott Little League (PLL) this season, which is about the same number the league had in 2012, according to new PLL president Chad Mickelson.

Mickelson, 37, said participation had been dropping yearly since the Great Recession hit. Only now has it stabilized slightly. In 2006-07, for example, between 700-800 youth were in the program.

"The boys look forward to it every year, and the anticipation of it is great," he said of the PLL season about an hour before Saturday's festivities. "Our coaches, especially once you get up into the minor and major divisions, are fantastic."

Little League Baseball's national office in Williamsport, Pa., reports that the league has ballooned from three teams at its inception in 1939 to more than 180,000 clubs in all 50 states and "scores of countries." The office also estimates that 35 million people have played in or volunteered for a local Little League program.

PLL carries the distinction as the first chartered Little League in Arizona. It was founded 11 years after the national organization started to offer boys ages 9-12 the opportunity to play organized baseball. Girls did not begin competing until 1974.

Mickelson said that the financial backing from the local league's sponsors has helped it maintain a current player registration fee of $55, which is the most affordable rate in the state. He added that the fees are at least double that amount in some other Arizona cities.

"If somebody does need financial assistance, we're happy to talk to them and be able to work out a way," Mickelson said. "As long as there's room by the deadline to sign up, we want to be able to make room for everybody."

This year, at least 25 businesses have paid to advertise individual banners along the outfield fence at Vallely Field. Businesses that sponsor teams may also pay a separate fee to name those clubs after themselves and print their companies' names on their jerseys.

These days, Mickelson said it's rare for a local Little League to still have its teams named for businesses. However, as a result of the money those sponsors generate, PLL conducts only one fundraiser each year, its Hit-a-Thon, which this spring is being held on April 20.

***

On top of teaching the ins and outs of the game, Prescott Little League's managers work to instill discipline and a work ethic in their players.

Deanna Eder, who's in her 10th year as a PLL volunteer and has three sons who play baseball, said the league has done a fine job of keeping the city's boys involved and busy.

"Of all the sports that go on in this community, baseball is one of the ones that has survived and has that legacy to it," she said.

One of Eder's sons, Jacob Eder, a former PLL all-star, is now the starting sophomore shortstop on Prescott High's varsity team. Jacob said he and the entire 2013 Badgers squad benefited from their experiences in PLL, albeit not all on the same clubs.

Included in that group is Badgers sophomore second baseman Garrett Schulz, another PLL all-star whose team qualified for the state tournament when he was 10. Eder and Schulz, best friends who suited up for their fathers in Little League, have played off and on together since the third grade.

"Without Little League, I probably wouldn't be here (at the varsity level) at all," Schulz said from PHS on Saturday. "It's a growing process, I guess."

Jacob said the PLL atmosphere for athletes was often cordial, which made the competition fun.

"You had a lot of friends in Little League, so you weren't friendly on the field - you wanted to beat them, bragging rights, all that stuff," he said. "The coaches were very helpful, even through all-stars and all that."

Badgers coach John Irish said PLL's program is strong, from the coaches and players to the support of parents and fans. In fact, his players still talk about their Little League experiences while bussing to and from varsity games.

"For those kids, it's as much a social part of their life as middle school dances and everything else," he said. "And it gives them an opportunity to figure out how much they like the game or not."

Former Prescott Little League president Jerry Mora, 53, who on Saturday received the league's Bill Vallely Award for Service after spending 30 years as a volunteer, primarily as a team manager, said he encourages children to stay involved in baseball as they grow older. Even if they're not playing, he says they should consider becoming a member of the media or delving into sports medicine, for example.

Mora, a longtime baseball card collector, said he's given away hundreds of thousands of trading cards to local kids over the past 25 years as a way to keep them engaged in the sport. He got the idea from Vallely, for whom he used to shag balls at Ken Lindley Field decades ago.

"It's kind of cliché, but baseball is truly an American trademark that's passed on from grandfather to son to grandson," Mora said.

***

Other than the weak economy, Mora said Little League recently took a hit in participation because of the opportunity for youngsters to play other sports, such as football, soccer, basketball and hockey, during their regular off-seasons.

Despite those trends, he added that it's important for Prescott and its surrounding towns to continue offering organized baseball.

"A lot of people move, and a lot of people switch interests," Mora said. "There's a lot more for kids to do now than there were when I played here in the '70s, but we still have a strong base."

He added that as long as PLL has community members who want to serve on the league's board and volunteers who are striving to make the experience enjoyable for the players, youth baseball will thrive in Prescott.

"Being born and raised here, I feel a commitment to give back to the community," Mora said. "If you put yourself out there on the ball field for the youth and you give back to your community that way, it makes the town that much more appealing and that much more special."




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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Article comment by: @ Bummed Out

Just what traditions do you want the new President to continue on with? Favortism, back stabbing, win at all cost? Which one(s), it's youth sports, it's full of ignorance. Some of the peolpe metioned in the article have done this for years, they promote their own kids at any cost, wether it be an adult or a child, stay out of their way. They try and control every level from little league on up to the high school,. They are the ones you should worry about not the new President.

Posted: Monday, April 08, 2013
Article comment by: Bummed Out Badger

Little League is a great tradition! Jerry Mora is a saint to put in that many years as president, I can not imagine the petty complaints he has dealt with over the years. I hope the new president (Mickelson) doesn't destroy the tradition in Prescott, like he did when he was president of the PV youth football organization. As far as the highschool boys are concerned, I understand they wouldn't even be on the team if their dads weren't helping coach.

Posted: Sunday, April 07, 2013
Article comment by: Ok Got it....

"Without Little League, I probably wouldn't be here at all." Really? Without Coaches Eder and Schulz at the high school, you wouldn't?

Posted: Sunday, April 07, 2013
Article comment by: same old

It's the same ol' stuff. First off, Shultz and Eder did not make the Varsity team as Freshmen due to PLL. They played club here locally and in Phoenix. An eight week LL season isn't going to do a thing for these kids. Also love the parents who are burnt out after the extremely long season. (Yes, being sarcastic). It was also too long. Dragging 5 year olds out to stand around for an hour to only walk the field for five seconds is ridiculous.

Posted: Sunday, April 07, 2013
Article comment by: ? ...?

Nice article but I think it would be better served if little league players were interviewed rather than high school. I understand these players are former little league players I just don't see the reasoning, interview present players. Is this the board members idea to ptomote her own kid or the reporters idea?????



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