James Rada, Jr.
Emmitsburg will still have baseball in town this season, but it won’t be provided by the Emmitsburg Baseball and Softball League (EBSL). Because of dwindling support and participation, the Emmitsburg Baseball and Softball League is taking a break to either re-energize or disband.
According to an e-mail from the EBSL to the Town of Emmitsburg, “Through the devoted efforts of a few, Emmitsburg Baseball and Softball managed to somehow survive the dwindling number of players and volunteers, but the time has now come to merge the two.”
Some residents expressed a bit of shock when the EBSL’s Facebook page showed a post directing players to register with the Thurmont Little League or Catoctin Recreation Council. One member wrote, “There were meetings scheduled to decide what to do. No one attended. More parent volunteers would have eliminated the need to merge with Thurmont. There were only a few board members doing all the work without a president or vice president or player agent or fund raiser, plus many more board vacancies. Some people said they would help next year, but no guarantee, and where were they for the past few years when help was needed. Too little, too late. This will at least provide the opportunity for more kids to play.”
Sandy Umbel with the Emmitsburg Baseball and Softball League said it has been years since the league has had a full board. This means that more and more duties fell on a smaller number of volunteers, and this led to fewer people willing to volunteer because they didn’t have the time to do everything. The league also had fewer than 90 participants last year. The softball program was dropped entirely because the team that did play, aged out. “To run a good program, you need probably 180 to 200 kids,” Umbel said. “Kids have been dwindling each year.”
With so few participants, all of the games could not be played against other town teams. The teams needed to travel to nearby communities to play against other teams. All of the travel proved to be a reason that many parents cited for enrolling their team in another league.
All of the Emmitsburg baseball players under thirteen years of age are being referred to Thurmont Little League so that they can register to play. Softball players are being sent to the Catoctin Rec Council.
“Little League is for every kid, and if we can get kids playing together, it’s a fabulous thing,” Thurmont Little League President Jeremy Johnson told the Emmitsburg Mayor and Commissioners.
He said that the area’s kids played basketball, soccer, and football together already, and once they reach middle school, they participate on the same teams. That was his vision for including the Emmitsburg children in Thurmont Little League. Coaches will hold a draft, where players are picked for a team, regardless of where they live. Emmitsburg players already make up roughly a third of the 250 Thurmont Little League players.
Thurmont Little League, which was established in 1952, has a strong record. Its teams were the 2015 9/10 Maryland State Champions, 2016 9/10 Maryland State Champions, 2016 Little League District 2 Champions, 2017 9-11 District 2 Champions, 2017 Little League District 2, and 2017 Maryland State Champions.
Some discussion has taken place about whether the name of Thurmont Little League could be changed, perhaps to Catoctin Little League, to reflect Emmitsburg’s participation in the league. Thurmont Little League President Jeremy Johnson told the Emmitsburg Commissioners that his board would not agree to that at this time. He pointed out that if the name was changed, and then in a year or two the Emmitsburg Baseball and Softball League decided to re-organize, all of the efforts to make the changes would have been for naught.
Thurmont Little League asked the commissioners to use three of the Emmitsburg town’s ballfields for practices and games during the season. This would ensure that baseball was still played in Emmitsburg. He said that Thurmont Little League would prepare, clean, and maintain the fields for the town.
The Emmitsburg Mayor and Commissioners seemed uncertain as to whether or not to embrace the merger. They were happy that children in town would still have a baseball league, but they were disappointed that it wouldn’t be Emmitsburg Baseball.
“We’ve got to beef it (our baseball league) up and bring it back,” expressed Mayor Don Briggs.
Commissioner Cliff Sweeney asked why there couldn’t be teams that were just made up of Emmitsburg players.
“The segregation of Thurmont and Emmitsburg is defeating the purpose of why Sandy (Umbel) came to me,” Johnson said.
Sweeney then mentioned that Emmitsburg Baseball and Softball League had been affiliated with Thurmont Little League at one point, but it had become part of the Cal Ripken program. He said if the town started a Little League program again, the district lines for league teams would require any Little League players from Emmitsburg to play for the Emmitsburg team, even if they were currently part of Thurmont Little League.
“We’re trying to get our league established here again, and we’re not going to get that through Thurmont, I don’t think,” Sweeney said.
Commissioner Elizabeth Buckman pointed out that besides making sure there were enough players, Emmitsburg Baseball and Softball hadn’t been able to get enough parent involvement to run the program.
While the commissioners held off approving Thurmont Little League’s field use request until the league could decide on which specific fields it did want to use, they did approve a request for Mid Maryland United Baseball League to use three of the town’s six fields.
This relatively new league has traveling teams and, unlike Little League, not everyone makes the cut to play on one of the teams. It is also much more expensive to participate in this league. The league will be sponsoring several youth clinics in town, with the goal of eventually rebuilding a new Emmitsburg Baseball League that would be affiliated with either Little League, Babe Ruth, or Cal Ripken Baseball sometime in the future.
“A lot of people want to see it restarted, and once the mechanism is moving forward, I think people will be attracted to it,” said Commission President Tim O’Donnell. “Success attracts interest.”
So, the town now finds itself in the position of having its baseball players recruited for two leagues, and neither one is organized by volunteers in Emmitsburg, at least for this year.