More than 100 Little League volunteers, officials and administrators from six Western states were in Juneau this past weekend for the Division 1 Little League Conference at Centennial Hall.
The conference featured three days of meetings about issues including player safety and getting Little League results online. But the conference served another important function, said J. Allan MacKinnon, president of Juneau's Gastineau Channel Little League, which hosted the event.
"It helps folks connect with a part of the country where these people have no idea how we do business," MacKinnon said. "These guys are all from places where they're only 15 minutes from tournaments. This helped them realize everybody doesn't have grass playing fields."
MacKinnon said local Little League officials took many of the visitors around to see their sand/gravel playing fields at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park, Melvin Park, Miller Fields and elsewhere around town. He said one Lower 48 official saw the dirt baseball field next door to the $1 million artificial turf at the adjoining football field, and still asked why there wasn't grass on the fields.
"That's one of the values of moving around the conference, so people can see what it's like in other parts of the division," said Michael Legge, the San Bernardino, Calif.-based Western Region Director for Little League Baseball and Softball. "The contrast here is Juneau's a beautiful town, but it has its own issues to deal with. We get a chance to hear how they make things happen."
One issue that came up was the cost of running Little League programs in remote places such as Southeast Alaska. MacKinnon said several of the visitors had visited the Web site for the Juneau Youth Football League and heard about its annual fund-raising effort (JYFL raises just under $250,000 a year). He said he got to tell them about the $50,000 a year the Gastineau Channel Little League has to raise to send its all-star teams to district, state and regional tournaments.
Little League's Division 1 includes six states - Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho. The annual conference rotates between the states each year, and this was the first time it took place in Southeast Alaska. Legge said he thought the last time the conference took place in Alaska was seven years ago in Anchorage.
Conference attendees registered on Thursday, then attended a social event at the top of the Mount Roberts Tramway. Friday and Saturday were devoted to seminars at Centennial Hall, with a wrap-up session on Sunday morning. Then the attendees went on a whale-watching cruise before heading home.
"There isn't anywhere else in our region where you can go see a glacier," Legge said. "There are other places you can watch whales, but not next to an island full of seals. This area is very unique."
Some of the speakers included Daniel Kirby of the Little League home office in Williamsport, Pa., who spoke about player safety and insurance issues; Tom McGorty of Kalamazoo, Mich., who discussed technology issues and sites such as the Active.com Network that allow online registration; Sam Palmer of Phoenix, Ariz., who led a baseball and softball umpires' round-table discussion; Jim Gerstenslager of San Diego, who discussed the international Little League movement; Dave Bonham of San Bernardino, who led a session on conflict management and dealing with parents; and Legge, who spoke about league administration and running tournaments.
The keynote speaker was Derek Peterson of Juneau, who works with the Association of Alaska School Boards. Peterson's speech was called "Asset Building for Coaches" and discussed how to help kids succeed.
One issue that came up for discussion, but wasn't acted upon, was a proposal to do away with the division-level tournaments (Far West or Pacific Northwest for Alaska). Some of the attendees want to consolidate the division tournaments into the regionals, which will create super-regional tournaments to cut down on some of the travel time and expense. Some of the officials from Alaska and Hawaii said eliminating a layer of tournaments will cut down on their travel costs, MacKinnon said, while officials from larger states said they were having to end their seasons before July 4th in order to get their all-star teams to their district and state tournaments.
This super-regional concept is what happens for Majors baseball (age 11-12), when both the Far West and West division tournaments take place at the same time in San Bernardino. Once the two division winners are determined, they play each other for the regional title.
"This wasn't a decision for the individuals here, but it's something they wanted," Legge said. "It probably won't happen this summer, but they laid the groundwork for some dialog on this issue."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.