By Sarah Borkowski (JMU Writer, Class of 2022)
Youth sports are essential in the development of a child’s self-esteem, on-going physical activity, and mental health. Unfortunately, a large roadblock for family’s participation in youth sports are the high registration and equipment fees. According to a newsletter published in 2020 by American Swimming Coaches Association, the average American family with children ages 8-18 who play organized sports will spend more than $4,000 on baseball or softball annually.
The Harrisonburg Little League Association has been a prominent youth sports organization in the community since the year 2000. President Deal Warlitner and parent/volunteer coach Jared Dull have been working to combat this ongoing issue through the efforts of the (Tony) Montavon Scholarship fund and the Pitch In Program.
“Tony was one of our dedicated volunteers prior to 2013,” said Warlitner. “He was in a car accident and passed away, so we dedicated [the scholarship fund] to him.”
Although the HLLA has the lowest registration fee in the community starting at $25, each season there are around 35-40 children that need assistance in paying. The Montavon Scholarship fund was set up to help cover anyone who needs it. Several local Harrisonburg businesses and members of the HLLA contribute monetary donations each year in support.
Besides the monetary help, HLLA also helps families who cannot afford baseball or softball equipment. Dull was able to give the Pitch In Program a name and it started around 4-5 years ago. The Pitch In program is set up for anyone to donate gently use baseball or softball equipment so it can be given to anyone who needs it. The Pitch In boxes have been set up at registrations, skills evaluations, and practices for someone who is interested in donated. Dull also said HLLA members can give old equipment directly to him.
“I want to eliminate any reason why a little kid can’t play for us whether it be money, equipment, or rides,” said Dull. “They just have to ask. Anywhere we are, we have Pitch In.”
Both Warlitner and Dull have talked to members of the community and parents at every single event they hold to promote the programs. This is to ensure that everyone knows that there is help in the areas where the need it and to encourage the community that every child gets to play America’s favorite sport. The benefit of both the Montavon Scholarship fund and the Pitch In Program is not just for the people that needs it, it’s for everybody.
“We say no to no one,” said Warlitner. “Everyone gets to play little league.”
To obtain a form to contribute or receive benefits, members are encouraged to talk to Warlitner directly (firstname.lastname@example.org) or check more information on hlla.org
By Taylor Gibson (JMU Writer, Class of 2022)
For the past 22 years, Harrisonburg Little League Association has impacted the young players to lay out the foundations of the future baseball and softball players these talented kids will become one day. However, for the last two years, it was not easy to accomplish its goals. At the start of the 2020 spring season, HLLA was put on hold due to COVID-19.
“COVID shut us down completely,” said Dean Warlitner, current president of HLLA. “Registration was about over, and we were at 325 players, which was above our 280 averages.” In the 2021 season, HLLA had a decent year with few unpopular safety measures to protect the city from the pandemic. The safety measures included handwashing and hand sanitizer stations at field entrances, social distancing of 10 feet between all players, coaches, volunteers, contractors, and spectators, measuring temperatures before heading to the field, daily symptom checks by all players, coaches, umpires, and league officials before games, practice and game attendance recording, and notifying health officials if COVID-19 would occur.
This season, HLLA has no restrictions at games, so they will have concession stands open and events such as the Opening Day ceremony and Batathon Fundraiser. HLLA is following the CDC guideline and the policy of Harrisonburg Park and Recreation.
HLLA is back on track and has already surpassed Wartliner’s goal of 325 players, “As of the morning of March 31st, HLLA consists of 329 players, and registrations for most age groups are closed,” Wartliner says. COVID-19 has become a regular trend here in Virginia with wearing face-coverings and keeping the community of Harrisonburg safe.
“I loved playing in Little League growing up and am happy to give back to the community I live in,” said Josh Moran, co-manager in the Minors league and an Assistant Coach in the Farm league. “Right now, both of my boys are loving the game. I’ve always wanted to be a part of what’s going on in my kids’ lives, and coaching gives me a chance to do that.”
Lately, there are more younger players in the league. Wartliner likes it and said, “I look forward to our t-ball players and families. They are the future, so we want them to love HLLA.
“I am looking forward to Nights at the ballpark. It can be hectic with multiple kids and multiple nights and leagues, but these days will only last for so long. So, enjoy them while we can!” adds Coach Moran.
HLLA is still looking forward to adding more players 13 and up. Visit www.hlla.org to receive more information about registration or volunteering with HLLA for the 2022 season.
From HLLA to HHS
Harrisonburg Little League (HLLA) was forced to cancel its 2020 spring season but is still striving to give young players the chance to experience baseball and softball in an organized form. For most people, sports require dedication and practice to become great.
Being great starts from the ground up, a notion that Harrisonburg High School (HHS) baseball coach Kevin Tysinger believes should start at a young age. As a former HLLA player, along with his 21 years of coaching experience, Coach Tysinger knows the importance of creating a strong foundation.
“I think every kid should get to experience a form of sport,” said Tysinger. “I want kids to learn at a young age that sports are fun and they are something you can be successful at.”
Starting young allows players to both learn the fundamentals of sports and create a foundation to grow with the game. Sharpening one’s playing skills early on opens up the opportunity to see major improvements in ability each and every year.
“In addition to basic knowledge about the game, HLLA gave us experience that you can’t replicate in practice or at home,” recalled HHS softball senior Karleigh Gentry. “Being able to see live plays unfold in front of you makes the game simpler, letting you understand what to do in any situation.”
Experience is a key component that other HHS baseball and softball players expressed as well. HHS softball senior Alyssa Sutton believes that starting young allows for players to progress more over time, making the sport feel more natural. Confidence is another trait that grows as a player’s experience increases - it gives players the motivation to make a play and be successful athletes.
Following Little League association guidelines, HLLA only allows players that live within Harrisonburg City limits to play, meaning they will move on to play at HHS if they choose to do so. Currently, there are thirteen former HLLA players that are part of HHS baseball and four former HLLA players that are on the softball team. Starting on a team at a young age gives the players the chance to grow as teammates and develop bonds that will continue into the high school level.
“Being able to grow as a team is one of the biggest things HLLA has helped prepare us for,” said Gentry. “One of the things we always try to do is bond as a team and HLLA has shown us that the process can be fun and easy.”
Evan Bert, a junior shortstop and pitcher for the HHS baseball team, credits HLLA for helping build that rapport between him and his current teammates.
“Playing when you are younger lets you start bonding with the teammates you’ll play with in high school,” said Bert. “We get to know our teammates' style of play and it becomes easier to play as a team.”
Besides helping athletes become better players and teammates, HLLA also helps young players find the reasons why they love to play sports. HLLA encourages players to go out and have fun while becoming better on and off the field of play. Josh Engle, a junior for the HHS baseball team, believes that participating in HLLA helped him realize why he loved baseball.
“I love baseball because you are able to make mistakes and not be considered a bad player,” said Engle. “I think that is the most appealing part of baseball because it gives you something to strive for every play.
Making the choice to play a sport is no easy decision but one that can have many rewards.
“Just do it,” exclaimed Sutton when asked for advice to give younger players who are hesitant to play. “Be consistent with practicing because that is the only way to get better and trust that you’ll have coaches that push you to be your best.”
HHS softball player Josie Edwards added to her teammate’s philosophy.
“You get to see how much you have improved every year,” said Edwards. “It really shows the importance of how you practice because that translates to games.”
HLLA teams have started practices the week and Opening Day will be April 24. Registration for both softball and baseball will remain open until Opening Day. To learn more about registration and the 2021 season, visit www.hlla.org.
Opening day is one of Harrisonburg Little League’s most anticipated events for all of its members and supporting community. In past years the event included bouncy castles, face painting, and many other games. Although the festivities may look a little different this year, the excitement for the long-awaited return to baseball and softball remains the same.
HLLA Story is an official blog site of the Harrisonburg Little League Association. All content is managed by Bluestone Communications, a student-run public relations agency at James Madison University. Please contact Isaac Woo (email@example.com), faculty director of Bluestone Communications, if you have any questions about the blog or the stories.