Little League was the first organized youth sports program in the world. It was founded on the belief that youth baseball and softball have the power to teach life lessons that build stronger communities and individuals. Carl E. Stotz, a resident of Williamsport, Penn., began the organization in spring 1939, when 30 eager players came together to form three baseball teams led by a collection of volunteers from his neighborhood. Today, Little League is composed of 6,500 leagues in more than 80 countries and throughout the United States.
Albuquerque has 15 leagues dotting the city. They facilitate camaraderie, boost self-esteem, teach responsibility, and promote diversity and equality among softball and baseball players ages 4 to 16.
As Little League has expanded worldwide, the notion of community has remained at its core. That tenet is one of the many reasons I am a proud board member of Alameda Little League, having played for this league myself many moons ago and now watching my own grandchild participate.
Little League programs are nonprofits that still organize independently within communities just as the inaugural division did in Pennsylvania 84 years ago. As part of a league’s annual charter, it establishes its own geographic boundaries to operate, providing all children who reside or attend school within those boundaries the opportunity to participate within the league and have a meaningful experience. We are distinct, yet united by the motto, “One Team. One Little League.”
However, anyone examining area leagues would be hard-pressed to see truth in that slogan. Some of us are really struggling, including Alameda Little League, while others are not due to a variety of inequities often beyond our control. These include geographic boundaries. Alameda, for example, is within a section of town that is largely industrial, with fewer homes, many low-income. This translates into fewer players, fewer donors, fewer parents who can volunteer, and an operation spread thin.
Further, Alameda Little League and many others lease fields from the City of Albuquerque Parks and Recreation. We use a park and clubhouse at 8536 Alameda Park Drive NE. Leagues contracted with the City are responsible for maintaining and servicing the facilities and paying for equipment, whereas leagues playing in fields provided by Bernalillo County do not bear that high financial burden; the County takes care of it.
Alameda operates on an annual budget of about $20,000, with our only sources of income being registration fees, donations, and funding, as available, from the City and State. While we do have control over registration fee amounts, we are sensitive about how much to charge as many of our players come from lower income families. We also use part of our budget for scholarships.
Alameda’s needs are basic: bleachers, shade structures, playable fields, security lighting, and amenities such as a play area, plaza, concessions, and bathrooms. We fall grossly short when it comes to these and other assets like turf fields, scoreboards, and paved parking.
Based upon an analysis conducted by MRWM landscape architects in 2021, the cost to bring the area up to par would cost about $6 million. We have been fortunate this year to receive $425,000 from the State and $100,000 from the City for general upkeep and construction. However, much of those dollars may not be seen for years.
Although leagues may assess a registration fee that is used to purchase uniforms and equipment, maintain fields, etc., the fee cannot be a prerequisite for playing. The Little League philosophy does not permit any eligible candidate to be turned away. Emphasizing the spirit of Little League, rules require that every child plays in every game. Alameda values inclusivity. Little League personnel are also composed only of volunteers, including the elected board members and officers, and each of the managers, coaches, umpires, field workers, etc.
Donations and sponsorships have been difficult to come by due to the financial impact of COVID-19 and rising costs for companies generally. Even so, many people and organizations have come to the league’s aid. In 2021, thieves broke into the clubhouse and stole equipment. What they did not take, they broke. After a board member reported the incident to the media, the league received checks from individuals and in-kind support from companies. (Thank you to all who helped including include Summit Fire and Security, TLC Plumbing, General Mills, and Accustripe.)
Alameda Little League has served the North Valley and its families since 1988, but our ability to do so for another 35 years will be severely limited without public awareness and support in the form of donations, volunteers, and gifts of services, such as landscaping and construction. We are not alone. Other area leagues need help, too.
Despite our challenges, Little Leagues play on for the children of our communities. The website of Little League’s world headquarters states that “it’s up to us to write the latest installment in an epic series (spanning 84 years), every time we play.” With your support, our next chapter will be written about the community barn-raising that drove renewal and recovery of America’s National Pastime for children of all backgrounds and skill levels in Albuquerque.
- Ted Aragon, Alameda Little League board member