One of Fort Wayne’s oldest Little Leagues is one that calls Waynedale home – and one that is backed by some of Waynedale’s most prominent businesses.
In fact, Opening Day for the Elmhurst Little League was April 22, when seven games were played, said Meagan Richardson, the league’s Player Agent.
The volunteer-run league, which started in 1954, plays most of its games at Mason Park, 5800 Mason Drive, just off Sandpoint Road. It comprises about 175 youngsters, divided into 14 teams, with player ages ranging from 4 to 16.
The group is run solely by parent volunteers, with a 10-member overseer board. In fact, the only paid positions in the league are the umpires, Richardson said. The group has 10 in-house umpires (from age 14 to adult), and pays another company for the additional umps it uses.
Hardball for the youngsters continues all the way through July, and includes several groups of players:
*The first, for the youngest players, is the T-Ball Division, ages 6 and under, is sponsored by American Legion, Post 241.
*The Prep Division, for ages 6 to 8, is sponsored by Imel Insurance, Legacy Heating and Air and Elzey-Patterson Funeral Home.
*The Minor Division, ages 9 to 10, is funded by COE Heating and Air, Rich’s Auto and Hanson Aggregate.
*The Major Division, for kids 11 to 12, is sponsored by Brooks Construction and Hanson Aggregate.
*The Seniors feature youth from 14 to 16 years old, and is sponsored by Dick’s Sporting Goods
*The league also includes softball teams for young girls, ages 10 to 12. That group is sponsored by Guardian, a local HVAC supplier.
The league raised money this year by selling signage at Mason Park.
Richardson, a stay-at-home mom who has two boys playing in the league, said sponsored dollars are critical for supplies and just keeping the group afloat.
She said that cash goes to pay for team uniforms, new catchers’ equipment, items for the concession stand, landscaping of the fields, operating capital for the league and – of course – trophies for the top teams.
Originally, the league played its games at the Bus Hut near Elmhurst High School. It moved to Mason Park in 1983, just a year after the park was built.
The main ball diamond at the four-diamond park is dedicated to Rick Harmon, an athletic Waynedale youth who played football, track and basketball at Miami Middle School. He also played in the Elmhurst Little League before losing his battle to cancer at age 13 in 1983.
The main diamond – now named in his honor – was the last place Harmon ever played a game, said Ricky Weber, the league President and a coach for one of the teams.
Unfortunately, the league has battled vandalism. In November of 2016, someone broke into the league’s building and stole an empty cash register and some of the doors. Luckily, the group was able to repair the damage with cash raised by the Southside Optimists Club.
Elmhurst Little League was able to cover the cost of the damage – about $5,000 – from money raised at the Optimist Club’s Ham and Bean booth during the annual Johnny Appleseed Festival.
On a recent sunny evening, young players darted around one of the Mason Park fields, and Weber mused about the importance of the game just before his game was set to begin.
“Little League is about character and sportsmanship,” said Weber, a 45-year-old Sergeant Major in the Army National Guard. “It’s about friendship and building life-long bonds.
“It’s about community and families coming together. You don’t have to be the best baseball player,” he said, “you just have to be the best you can be.”
Richardson agreed that Elmhurst Little League’s role is a crucial one.
“It’s important to me that Elmhurst Little League continues to operate for many years to come,” she said. “There is a whole lot more to learn playing organized baseball than just the game.
“At the end of the season, teams become family, opponents become life-long friends. A non-profit, youth-driven program has existed in our community for 63 years! That’s a wonderful thing,” Richardson said. “The more the youth of our community are involved, the less time they’ll have to get into trouble.”