The Oelwein Family Aquatic Center was quite busy on Tuesday, July 9, with a private pool party celebrating the end of Little League season.
Lucky for the teams, their pool party did not get rained out that afternoon.
Smiles could be seen all over the pool area and shouts of delight could be heard from the kids as they ran here and there splashing and laughing. Some jumped off the high board, while others ran and leaped in from side. Younger kids slid down the little island waterslide and stood under the bucket of water, waiting in anticipation for it to dump on them.
“The pool party is our way of saying ‘Yea! We made it through the season,” said Jessica Burkhart, Williams Wellness Center community recreation and wellness facilitator. “I don’t know if everyone will show up, but we did have 275 people sign up. It is open to our Little League members from ages 3 up to the seventh grade, their families, our volunteer coaches and their families.”
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Ashlyn Sauser, who is on the traveling Little League.
“Pitching,” said Burkhart’s son, Aaron, when asked what his favorite thing was about Little League.
The Little League season went well with two to three games a week, plus squeezing in practices, according to Burkhart.
“Families have multiple kids on different age levels in the summer Little Leagues,” said Burkhart. “So, the month of June is pretty heavy with softball and baseball. We always hope we don’t get rained out; we had a few, but not too many, and we try to get them made up.”
Burkhart explained that summer time leagues consisted of Blast Ball, T-Ball, Pitching Machine and travel leagues.
• Blast Ball is for 3- to 4-year-olds. It’s a step down from T-Ball; they hit a ball off the T and then run to a base that honks when they are there.
“So, it’s getting them used to hitting the ball off the T and running to first base; breaking it down for them to play,” Burkhart said. “They play for half an hour and the other team fields the ball and throws it back to our helper.”
• T-Ball is for 5- to 6-year-olds. Both of Blast and T-Ball Leagues are held on Sunday’s in the month of June, so once a week for four weeks.
• Pitching Machine is for first grade through third grade for both baseball and softball. These leagues are all local, so they play each other. They practice a couple of times during the week and then once games get going, they would have a game a week and a practice a week and they average about five games per season.
• Northeast Iowa Baseball and Softball Little League is made up of fourth through seventh graders that travel all over Northeast Iowa and the surrounding communities, according to Burkhart.
“I think any time kids can get in any kind of sport, it is a good thing,” said Burkhart. “It’s not about just winning but It’s about being on a team and working well with your peers and having someone else teaching you something other than your parents.”
Sports involvement teaches kids good work ethics and how to prioritize their time “especially, when school is in session, because we start practicing with our traveling teams in April and a lot of them are balancing soccer and Little League practice,” said Burkhart. “It’s teaching them responsibility; they are still in school and have to get their school work done and they have to make sure they are showing up. It’s always a neat experience watching them from the beginning of the season to the end and seeing their improvement.”
Burkhart explained that there are sign-up fees for Little League of $15 to $40, which covers the jersey and that some equipment is required such as gloves, baseball and softball pants. Cleats are recommended but, not required. Helmets, catchers gear and bats are supplied. Kids can bring their own if they have these things.
“We rely on our volunteer coaches heavily,” said Burkhart. “Otherwise, we would not be able to run our Little League programs or all our other programs without the help of volunteers.”
The key is to get as many kids the opportunity to participate in youth programs. Although there is a fee, if there is a financial burden, the Larry Murphy Scholarship can be utilized for Little League as well as all other youth programs, according to Burkhart.
“I like that every day is different,” said Burkhart, “I love working with the kids and getting to work with the public. I also coordinate the adult program for leagues and work with the wellness center in helping people meet their fitness goals.”
Those interested in signing up for next year should keep an eye out for registration dates to be announced in late January and early February.