Williston Little League starts season with eye on improvements

Directors seek better fields, more competition

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Six-year-olds will swing at balls perched on tees with bats seemingly as long as they are. Twelve-year-olds in the midst of startling growth spurts, teetering between being children and being teenagers, will peer in for signs from catchers, eyeing a target a mere 45 feet away for one final summer. Aluminum bats will ring; stiff, new mitts will pop; and parents will hoot encouragement from the stands.

Monday marks opening day for the Williston Little League and the approximately 320 boys and girls participating in the league’s five divisions. Ballplayers from the burgeoning local league will join nearly 3 million other youths around the world participating this season in leagues under the aegis of Little League Baseball and Softball.

The timeless action on the field will be the focus, as usual. However, the Williston Little League will be facing a number of changes in the next year designed to improve the league, and some of those matters will begin to be tackled this spring and summer, according to Dennis Lalancette, the league president.

Among the chief goals of the league board of directors is to improve its facilities and attract regional competitions to Williston. Little League rules dictate that the host fields for regional tournament games have certain specifications. Community Park, the field where the Major League of Williston Little League plays its contests, does not qualify, Lalancette said.

Lalancette said the league would be pleased to partner with the town to fund some of the improvements, but in order to do that the league will need to find new revenue.

Lalancette said the league does not want to hike current registration costs — $40 for one player, $45 for two, $50 for three — because the relatively low entry fee is something the league takes pride in.

Instead, the league is looking to improve its other revenue sources and hopes to launch a capital campaign to raise money for facility improvements.

Also, the league will borrow an idea used by some neighboring leagues and hold a Hit-A-Thon fundraiser this year. Players will take pledges that will be based on the distance they can hit the ball off a tee. Lalancette said the event, which is scheduled for May 14, should be a big day, complete with a barbecue and team pictures. He hopes the event can produce an atmosphere akin to the opening days other leagues stage.

“It should be a fun multipurpose function,” Lalancette said. “All the players will gather together in one place and it will be a way to celebrate youth baseball and softball in Williston.”

The Little League was offered an electronic scoreboard for its Community Park field by Coca-Cola, but complications with the town’s zoning requirements have put that donation in question. The league would also like to explore the possibility of placing advertisements on the fence at the Community Park during the season, but has held off that discussion until the scoreboard issue is resolved.

In the meantime, the fields are undergoing largely routine maintenance this week. The 2005 season was originally scheduled to start April 25, but town officials did not expect to have the three fields ready for competition until May 1. Recreation Director Kevin Finnegan said Monday that everything should be ready by the end of the week.

The league moved the start of the season back a week to adjust, shortening the schedule from 14 games to 12 games. Lalancette said the shift marks a break from tradition for the league, which has for years opened its season the Monday after school spring vacation.

Lalancette said he has received only favorable feedback from parents and coaches about the schedule change. He said parents are pleased the season opener does not come so close to the end of vacation, while the coaches are enthused to get an extra week with their team.

“It’s nice we’ve got that time to practice now,” said Bruce Allen, a coach for a Triple A team. “Usually, half of the players are here and the other half are in Florida the week before the season starts. Now, we’ll have a chance to get everybody together and practice a bit.”

Lalancette said the numbers for Williston’s baseball and softball leagues are down a bit from a few years ago. Still, only the fall youth soccer league, which included about 450 kids last year, is a larger youth sports league in town.

The numbers should grow next year when the league considers allowing 5-year-olds to participate.

“There’s a lot of interest in Little League and we want to make sure we provide opportunity for everybody that we can,” Lalancette said.