Summer baseball and softball leagues have ended for the year, but the preparation is already underway for next year.
Across the county, more than 10 youth sports leagues offer kids the chance have fun, learn fundamentals of the game and compete against one another for roughly two months each year.
But the work to form teams, schedule games and tournaments and make sure everyone is clothed and fed lasts all year.
Often, that work is done on evenings and weekends by volunteers, dedicating their free time on top of caring for their families and working.
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And when volunteers are hard to come by, running a league becomes more difficult.
League boards are in charge of finding sponsors, setting and altering rules and regulations, scheduling games and budgeting league funds. And they’re solely made up of volunteer parents and coaches to make the experience for the kids as memorable and fun as it can be.
This spring, the Greenwood Lassie League struggled to find enough volunteers, falling roughly eight members short of a fully staffed league board, which made game-day tasks like staffing the concession stand a struggle, league president Tony Adkins said.
And concession stand help isn’t the only struggle. Maintaining the softball diamonds, equipment and facilities, all while seeking sponsors, are constant tasks.
And when the season ends for the players, the board begins to prepare for the next year, Adkins said.
“You just try to do the best you can,” he said.
“You never have enough volunteers – never. There is a core of volunteers that have to step up and do a lot of extra work, but there’s just not enough to do everything you need from getting the fields ready for games to concession volunteers.”
The Greenwood Lassie League has 12 active board members and room for eight more, to run the league with 17 teams, each with roughly 11 girls. On game days, one board member is on duty, and they show up several hours before the first pitch to prepare the fields, which includes watering the playing surface, prepping the diamonds and putting out bases.
Coaches and parents help with the diamonds and concessions. Adkins said about 24 volunteers are usually needed on game days.
The Greenwood Bantam Football League has a similar schedule. On game day, the officer of the day shows up around 8 a.m. to unlock facilities, get sideline equipment out, set up the field and then find volunteers for each game to run the clock and first-down chains. They also make sure parents who are scheduled to work concessions show up and do so, Greenwood Bantam Football League President Phil Hommel said.
At the end of the day, all of that equipment has to be put up, trash has to be picked up, and the facilities have to be locked back up. By the time the day ends, volunteers have spent about 10 hours running game-day operations.
Volunteers also have the task of fundraising for their leagues.
Between the cost of insurance, buying new equipment, certifying coaches and paying referees, it costs almost $30,000 to run Franklin’s Youth Football, league director Brian Shepherd said.
The Greenwood Lassie League is continually searching for more sponsors, Adkins said.
“We’re having to seek sponsorship a lot more than we used to,” Adkins said. “We start right after the season ends. We have some great local sponsors, but it’s always a struggle to hit our goals.”
The Greenwood Bantam Football board prefers to have at least 10 sponsors per year, and league board members spend part of their free time outside of work going out and seeking them, President Phil Hommell said.
Volunteer parents also design and sell T-shirts and car decals at league events and games to raise money for the league.
“All of our money goes to replenishment of equipment or expenses for the league,” Hommell said. “We buy at least five new game footballs every year, we’re constantly replacing old equipment like helmets, plus we pay our referees $30 to $50 a game.”
To keep everything running, league boards meet throughout the year, not just during the season.
Greenwood Bantam Football’s board members meet once a month from January through the season, which usually ends in October, to discuss sponsors, rule changes, new ideas like scheduling teams from other city leagues and balancing the rosters, Hommell said.
Franklin Youth Football runs on the same schedule. Board members usually have only two months away from league meetings and discussions, Shepherd said.
Finding volunteers who will dedicate an entire Saturday and a few days out of the month for almost 10 months a year isn’t easy, league officials said. But volunteers are necessary, Hommell said.
“Our first priority as a board is getting enough volunteers that will put in a lot of free time for more than just their son,” Hommell said. “We usually rely on six or seven volunteers per game. A portion of the board is dedicated to making sure we have enough volunteers to help out.”