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Youth baseball in Riverton is broken, but it can be repaired

Aug 21, 2012 By Craig Blumenshine, Staff Writer

Less than 12 hours after the Rockies had defeated the Phillies this year for the Riverton Babe Ruth League title, the sprinklers were on, the Babe Ruth Park field was green, and the diamond was being readied for its next game. I watched that game and then rode my scooter past the field on Sunset Drive early the next morning. The calendar said it was June 28.

The problem, and it's a big problem, is the next baseball game on that field won't be played until next May.

For maybe the first time ever, for whatever reason, league officials decided that Riverton would not or could not field a team in any one of the three state tournaments that were available for our kids ages 13-15. No all-stars this year.

There have been times in recent memory when Riverton was represented at all three Babe Ruth state tournaments and, for most years, the league has been able to field at least two all-star teams wearing various designs of their red and white uniforms that said "Riverton".

But this year was different. Local teams played a dozen or so games, then called it quits.

Youth baseball in Riverton is broken and needs to be fixed. You can't argue otherwise.

And the issues with Riverton's youth baseball program aren't just centered in the Babe Ruth League.

As we have written about in this space before, our American Legion program has slid into a team that, this year, needed to have three or four Babe Ruth-aged players on its roster -- including a couple of 14-year-olds -- just to field a team at the end of its season and into postseason play, according to Raiders head coach Jeremy McCormick.

There is serious discussion within the ranks of Riverton's Little League program to switch as early as next season to Cal Ripken baseball leagues to ease the transition into middle school-aged baseball and to escape other issues that some feel have manifested at the state Little League level.

Families in Fremont County whose kids have an interest in baseball are seriously considering leaving the area so that their sluggers can compete with teams at a higher level than is available here.

And, the problems don't exist in just Riverton. Youth baseball is even worse off in Lander and Worland, for example, were American Legion baseball teams have not been fielded for several years.

Let's add in the pressure our high school coaches place on our athletes in the summer to prepare for their upcoming seasons. Our basketball team, for example, played in no less than seven camps and tournaments, mostly during the weekends this summer. I'm not great at math, but that left maybe, one weekend available for -- not baseball -- but a high school football camp.

Let me add that the purpose of this column is not to criticize our high school sports programs. If I were a high school coach responsible for a program, and the rules let me compete all summer long, I guess that is exactly what I would try to do.

Apparently, there is no room anymore for baseball.

Or is there?

We renew our call for organized high school baseball in Wyoming. Let's do it like they do in Iowa, where it is a summer sport, and get baseball on the same level with other high school programs.

All we need is seven other schools to join Riverton, and the first high school baseball season could happen the next year. Let's admit that the way we are trying now isn't working.

Maybe we need to organize a "Riverton Baseball Summit," if you will, this fall. We need to get the issues on the table, set goals, and go to work.

If we wait, we'll strike out. Maybe we already have.

Have a great sports week. Go Big Red!

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