Monday, August 09, 2010

Roanoke City joins Little League baseball

The Youth Athletic Council will begin the affiliation next season.

Roanoke City 12-and-under baseball teams played just 10 games this season. There will be playoffs and All-Star games next year.

Courtesy of David Carson

Roanoke City 12-and-under baseball teams played just 10 games this season. There will be playoffs and All-Star games next year.

When ESPN begins its coverage of the Little League World Series later this week, pre-teen baseball players in Roanoke City will be able to look at the screen and say, "I can do that."

There are numerous organizations that sponsor 12-and-under baseball in Virginia, including Dixie League, which has a large footprint in southwestern Virginia. But, until recently, Roanoke City was not affiliated with any of them.

"Since I've been a part of it, it's just been city play," said Scot Sutherland, athletic director for Greater Southwest Athletics. "There's no playoffs, no championships, no all-star teams, no incentive to really play hard."

That was part of the motivation when Roanoke City's Youth Athletic Council voted to join Little League for the 2011 season.

"It's not just the competition," Sutherland said. "A big part of it is the insurance. The insurance costs keep going up and up. Little League has an outstanding insurance program. It's probably one of the least expensive but covers the most things."

Talks began roughly one year ago, when Little League representative Fred Corbett made a presentation to the YAC Council. Corbett is the administrator for Virginia District 12, which has two leagues in southwest Roanoke County and one apiece in Covington, Clifton Forge, Blacksburg, Buena Vista and Giles County, as well as a combined Bath County-Highland County team.

"Giles County and Buena Vista have had some bad economic problems in their communities, so they did not charter programs this year," Corbett said. "I talked to the city manager and he basically indicated they have let their whole parks-and-rec department go."

Corbett said he also has had talks with Franklin County about the possibility of joining Little League for 2011.

"Franklin County has a very big interest," he said.

Corbett said there are more kids playing Little League in Virginia than for any other organization, but he concedes that Dixie has a greater hold on this part of the state.

"Some of it could be history," he said.

Dixie League District 7 includes leagues in north Roanoke County, Botetourt County, Vinton, Salem, Glenvar, Mount Pleasant and Craig County.

District 3 has leagues in Christiansburg, Blacksburg, Pulaski, Dublin, Patrick County, Radford and Eastern Montgomery County.

Christiansburg was the host recently of the Dixie World Series.

Art Price, the director of parks and recreation for Christiansburg, has been an observer of the New River Valley baseball scene for more than a quarter-century.

He doesn't remember any presentation when Christiansburg went to Dixie in 1995.

"We started out with 13-14s one year to see how that went," he said. "We had no problems. The next year, we went with the 11-12s, then 9-10s, then softball. Dixie was what was available.

"But, in the beginning, there was no Dixie, no Little League, no anything. All-Star games were a no-no. Everything was played for fun."

Sound familiar?

Youth sports in Roanoke City are conducted through four groups -- the Star City Recreation Club, Williamson Road Recreation Club, South City Knights Recreation Club and Greater Southwest Athletics.

Getting the groups to reach a consensus can be difficult and there was some apprehension before the final vote, Sutherland said, but Roanoke City will become the largest constituency of District 12.

Little League likes for its leagues to come from a population of no more than 20,000. Given Roanoke City's population of approximately 90,000, each of the current clubs should be able to have at least one league.

At the end of the regular season, the leagues will pick All-Star teams that will face All-Star teams from the other teams in District 12. The winner of that competition automatically qualifies for the state tournament.

"It's not just local," Corbett said. "It's state-wide, regional, national and even international. You can expand your horizons. I've had my eye on Roanoke City for a while."

There are differences between the different state-wide organizations, including Pony League in the Virginia Beach area and the Cal Ripken League in Winchester, but in the end, it's just an opportunity to play more baseball.

In Roanoke City, the 12-and-under season lasted 10 games this year.

"It doesn't matter whether you win them or lose them all, or whether you're the best player on the team or not," said Sutherland, who grew up playing Little League in California and Texas. "The season's just over."

Now, it doesn't have to be.

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