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Little League Turns 75

A1 Feature from Richmond Times-Dispatch • By: Joey Ukrop • Photography: Dean Hoffmeyer

Little League baseball has brought families and friends together in the Richmond area and across the country for the past 75 years.

From the swing of the bat to the handshakes after the final out, the game hasn’t changed much since the first pitch was thrown on June 6, 1939 in Williamsport, Pa.

According to the official Little League website, it is the world’s largest organized youth sports program with nearly 200,000 teams around the world.

Although most leagues in the Richmond area didn’t form until the 1950s, their values have remained constant for more than half a century. In the greater Richmond area, there are 13 Little Leagues that make up District 5.

“We have 930 players in our league,” Chesterfield league president Michael Lynn said. “Every night at the ball field everyone enjoys the game, and even if they’re losing, everyone is happy to be a part of it. It’s a great environment for the players.”

On the Boots Guedri Memorial National League Field in Henrico County, 10, 11 and 12-year-old members of the Padres focused on the Phillies player at home plate with aluminum bat at the ready. The late afternoon sun cast long shadows across the neatly-groomed diamond, occasionally capturing a swirl of dust as the Little Leaguers shuffled their cleats into position.

Along the foul line, the Phillies coach paced with arms folded. Words of support echoed from inside the dugout and onto the field. The parents in the bleachers followed suit as their gaze shifted to the pitching mound.

Padre wound up, released and Philly swung.

“Strike,” said the umpire. A burst of cheers filled the warm spring air. The victorious Padres sprinted towards the dugout to celebrate their 8-6 playoff win.

Scenes such as these have overrun ballparks during the past seven decades. But for Tuckahoe league president Wade Kennedy, Little League was designed to withstand the test of time.

“I think they put together a great program,” Kennedy said. “They’ve got a very stringent set of rules and guidelines that they go by, which keeps the quality of play in the programs at the top of the list.”

Like hundreds of other districts across America, Little League has captivated players and spectators of all ages.

District 5 board member and 2013 Tuckahoe president Kevin Griffin has been involved with the league for more than 10 years.

“I played as a kid, so to be able to come out here and coach my kid is a phenomenal experience,” he said. “Hopefully kids in the future will be able to do the same thing.”

Julia Wingfield has both a 7- and 8 year-old participating in the Tuckahoe league. The mother of three said she likes watching her boys grow as they play baseball.

“I like seeing the change in them,” she said. “How they start without any concept of even what direction to run around the bases, and then observing them watch the older kids play, watching on TV and finally putting it together in a way that actually makes sense.”

Her son, Spencer, 7, said he likes playing baseball because he likes batting and seeing his friends.

David Hanson, 14, spent most of his childhood playing Little League. He said baseball is still America’s pastime and the Tuckahoe league provides a great atmosphere.

This positive environment can be credited to the hundreds of volunteers that contribute to the program each season.

“It’s a benefit because it requires all of our parents to come and be a part of the process and give in to the community asset,” Atlee league president John Swierczewski said.

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