By Riley Smith (JMU Class of 16)
"Youth sports taught me how to work on a team, while also learning not just how to be a good winner, but to learn how to be a good loser as well."
The long winter is almost over. As spring comes, little league opening day is right around the corner.
“Opening day is my day. The interactions with the kids, coming up to hug you or wrap around your leg. A lot of these kids started at Tball and the older ones, you see them grow up and see how they are becoming young men and ladies.”
Dean Warlitner, current president of Harrisonburg Little League Association, was born and raised in Harrisonburg and grew up playing baseball, but at the time there was no such thing as HLLA. He played for Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation. Once he graduated high school, the Parks and Rec baseball league needed more help just as HLLA does now. Warlitner had just started working for Walker Manufacturing in 1986, which is where he still earns his living today. He worked second shift at the manufacturing plant when he first started which didn’t give him any hours to devote to volunteering for Harrisonburg Parks and Rec.
“I told them as soon as they (Walker Manufacturing) give me first shift, I would come help. Nine years later, they gave me first shift, so around 1994 or 1995, I started volunteering,” said Warlitner.
Warlitner continued to volunteer and build up more and more responsibilities. The more responsibilities he was given, the more he moved up the “volunteer totem poll.” In the year 2000, they switched over to the official Little League. 10 years later, in 2010, Warlitner was named HLLA president.
Some people think I work for the city. And when they found out I don’t work for the city, they ask, ‘you don’t do this for pay?’ I say no, I’m a volunteer.
Since 2010, Warlitner has devoted an unprecedented amount of time to Harrisonburg Little League. One would think there is a catch to why he puts this whole thing together, but he hasn’t even had a child in the League since 1998.
“Someone’s got to do it (run HLLA). After a while, it almost feels like my duty. It’s not that I don’t think someone else can’t do it, but I also know to do it the way I do it, it takes a lot of time and I know there are a lot of people out there that wouldn’t put the time in,” added Walitner.
Youth sports shaped his life a lot as well. It taught him a lot of valuable lessons like “sacrifice,” “determination,” and “how to play through pain and become a tougher person.” Youth sports taught him how to work on a team, while also learning not just how to be a good winner, but to learn how to be a good loser as well. According to Warlitner, these are the type of things that they want to teach children “nowadays.” On top of all of that, Warlitner is still best friends with the guys he played youth sports with.
“People ask me all the time, ‘why do you do it?’ This is a really hard and busy time of the year. Once the games start, that’s the fun time. February and March is all of the behind the scenes stuff that people don’t know about,” said Walitner, “The board is working hard getting sponsors lined up, getting skills and registration and all that stuff ready to go. Those are the times when I ask myself, ‘why are you doing this?’ But the pay back is worth it.”
You don’t have to be a baseball person to be involved in little league. There are so many things you can do to help volunteer. You have to care about kids and want to help…flip burgers on a grill, blow up balloons. There is so much you can do.
Warlitner is not by any means the only volunteer either. Board members, coaches, and umpires are all volunteers. Only when HLLA desperately needs help, they pay someone. But this is not what the board wants because when they have to pay someone for a “volunteer position,” it comes out of the entire HLLA budget. Which is less money for everyone involved. In recent years, Little League has really been hurting with the lack of volunteers and this puts more pressure on Warlitner and the rest of the current volunteers.
“We struggle with getting people involved. We need people involved more,” said Warlitner, “A lot of our volunteers do stuff behind the scenes. It’s not just me. Vice president Crystal, does so much for this league.”
Warlitner and Crystal work the concession stand during football season just to raise money for HLLA. That is 3 out of 7 nights a week for 7 weeks. Once again, he is doing all of this without earning a penny.
“You don’t have to be a baseball person to be involved in little league. There are so many things you can do to help volunteer. You have to care about kids and want to help…flip burgers on a grill, blow up balloons. There is so much you can do,” said Warlitner.
Opening day is just around the corner. Baseball and softball teams already started their practices. The first major baseball game is scheduled against a Bridgewater team at Purcell Park April 12. Then, April 16 is Warlitner’s favorite day, the opening day. He will once again announce players’ name and cheer them. He has done it for 17 years now.
“Some people think I work for the city. And when they found out I don’t work for the city, they ask, ‘you don’t do this for pay?’ I say no, I’m a volunteer.”
HLLA Story is an official blog site of the Harrisonburg Little League Association. All contents are managed by the Bluestone Communications, a student-run public relations agency at James Madison University. Please contact Kevin Leaven (firstname.lastname@example.org), an account executive of the Bluestone Communications., if you have any questions about the blog or the stories.