NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Football season has started, but a growing number of kids are heading to the park to play baseball. So many, in fact, that one organization is putting out a cry for more umpires.
“I mean, if I was going to pick a problem I had to have, this would be a good one to have,” admitted Darrel Feagan, President of the Burns Park Athletic Association.
Feagan, who oversees the fall baseball league at the park, said the increase in enrollment this fall is beyond anything he or his fellow board members would have imagined.
“Last year we had 138 players total, from ages 3-12,” he noted. “This year, that number has increased drastically to 246 throughout the park.”
A shortage of coaches was filled just in time for the start of the season, but the league still needs more umpires willing to work its games, which begin next week.
“The older kids, where you have the 11 and 12 year-old that are playing live-arm baseball, you have to have two certified umpires for each game,” Feagan explained. “And with those divisions, there’s three games a night. The nines and tens who are playing live-arm baseball, you require two umpires per game, and there’s three games of those per night.”
Fall baseball is typical less competitive than spring baseball, because it is designed to help younger players adjust to rules that change as they get older. One of the appeals of the Burns Park league is that each team has just one practice per week and all games are scheduled on Thursdays. If the league cannot get more umpires, organizers might have to change the dates of some games, which they do not want to do.
“It gives the family a chance to not be so busy, with school starting,” Feagan said, “and sometimes kids participate in other sports, and if we’re only using two nights a week, they still have time to do other things in their life.”
There were only eight players who signed up a few years ago. Now there are six full teams for most of the age groups. All the children want to play, and they need help making the games as good as possible.
“We’re really happy that the numbers have come up,” Feagan stated, “because it gets more kids out of the house playing baseball. And one of the mottos we’ve had here is, ‘more kids playing more baseball.’ And we really like to see that, to keep the kids active and learning a new sport.”
Umpires are paid for each game they work, as long as they are certified, but all coaches and all board members work on a volunteer basis. “One guy in a RN at (UAMS) hospital,” Feagan, a firefighter by day, mentioned about the board. “We have a North Little Rock police officer, the owner of Fuller and Son Hardware.”
Player registration has ended for the fall, but there will be a new season in the spring, and registration for that will open in January.