Legacy of sportsmanship weathers COVID, but is still struggling to overcome years of steady decline in participation
By Noah Johnson
LANSING, Ill. (August 23, 2021) – Members of Lansing Little League are calling on community members to participate next season to continue the program’s post-pandemic growth.
The youth baseball league gives children ages 4 to 12 an opportunity to play on a team with their peers during fall and spring seasons. The league’s fall season is currently underway with four teams playing in the minor league, which is a 6- to 8-year-old division. It also has one travel team of 9- to 12-year-olds that will compete against other local teams. The season started August 21 at the Lansing Old Timers Complex and will run through the first week of October.
Though it’s too late for kids to sign up for this fall season, those who are interested should look out for the promotion of the spring season in January and February, according to Saad Abbasy, Village of Lansing Trustee and minor league coach. The best way to keep tabs on the league is at lansingyouthbaseball.com.
Learning to be coachable in community
Abbasy got involved after his 6-year-old son joined, he said. He also played in the league as a kid in the 1990s. Now he wants his son and other players to benefit from the experience like he did.
“You learn to be coachable in life when you’re part of a team sport,” he said. “Receiving coaching, receiving criticism, and applying that to improving in the sport. It provides a sense of involvement in the community. You’re seeing these kids that you’re going to school with and you’re playing with them, so you’re developing deeper bonds with some of your classmates,” Abbasy said.
A Little League legacy amid COVID-19
To Little League Board President Ray Nommensen, who’s been involved with the league for 30 years, the league teaches sportsmanship.
“If you learn good sportsmanship it carries over to your family life,” he said. “There’s a lot of kids out there that have single moms signing them up and they are looking for someone to lead and set an example. So, if we can get good coaches and managers [to do that], that’ll carry over to home life.”
Since Nommensen’s early days of involvement, the league has changed, he said. The village used to have two little league charters: Lansing East and Lansing West. Both had about 400 kids in each charter. Participation has fallen by about 10% each year since then, Nommensen said. This year’s spring season saw about 130 kids participate. There were six teams of 4- to 6-year-olds, four teams in the 7-9 range, and four teams in the 10-12 range.
The number of participants were even lower amid the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. The league had to delay its season as the virus spread throughout the country and the world. When the season began, there were about 40 to 50 kids who played. There were two teams of 4- to 6-year-olds and two teams of 7- to 12-year-olds.
That’s why the boost in participation during the spring season that increased players from 40 to 130 was so special, Abbasy said.
More growth needed
“It was a great bounce-back number but we want to see those numbers continue to grow so we can have more teams, have more competition, be able to build a strong in-house program to offer kids that development for families that aren’t interested in travel ball,” Abbasy said.
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