A population spike in the younger elementary school ages has created a good problem for two baseball leagues in the Bay Area.
As the number of kids in the North Bend Independent Baseball League and the Coos Bay Coast League has grown, the leagues have had to add more teams.
The problem? Finding enough practice time for teams on the limited number of fields in the area.
“The challenge is always ball fields and practice time,” said Scott Moffitt, the president of the North Bend Independent Baseball League.
Moffitt’s league saw a jump of 30 players this year to 225. The league has 19 teams in four age groups.
The Coos Bay Coast League had 200 baseball players this year and also added softball, with five teams in that sport, said Tony Crane, the league’s president.
Between the two sports, the league had 22 teams. Just like in North Bend, that means a challenge.
“The teams that aren’t playing games, we don’t have room to practice,” Crane said. “Games and practice times are equally important. At the younger age, practice time is more important.”
The two baseball leagues are not unique in their increase in participation.
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and Bandon Crossings Golf Course started a new youth program this year, the PGA Junior Golf League.
The two golf facilities advertised the new league during their junior clinics.
“We were hoping to get a minimum of 16 (players) so we could have two teams,” said Scott Millhouser, who runs the junior golf program at the resort. “But we got 40. It’s exceeded our expectations.”
The golfers have come from Bandon, of course, but also Coquille, Coos Bay and North Bend.
“It’s so exciting to have a good turnout and support from the community and families,” Millhouser said.
The age range for the league is 7 to 13 years old.
“The majority is 7 to 10,” Millhouser said. “There is a bright future there.”
Bandon Dunes offers a variety of free education programs for young golfers and Millhouser said the numbers are steady, and particularly strong in the kindergarten to third grade age range.
Another place seeing a big increase in that age range for sports is the Boys & Girls Club of Southwestern Oregon.
“There is an influx of the younger kids,” said Karen Bauder, the sports director at the club.
Not only are there more kids, but they want to start earlier, too, Bauder said.
In soccer, she is seeing kindergarten students who want to play when traditionally the start age has been first grade. In volleyball and basketball, now second graders are starting to play when the program traditionally has started in third grade.
“I’m pretty accepting,” Bauder said of the concept of starting students in sports earlier. “If their parents are comfortable with it, we will go with it.”
That trend doesn’t hold true in the upper age groups, where there are more activities to attract the attention of students.
“When our kids get to fourth grade and older, we don’t have as many. Our program has been impacted by other sports programs popping up in the area.”
Sports is only one part of the Boys & Girls Club, which also provides after school activities for students at all grade levels in the Bay Area in its youth center.
That program has grown over the years from about 150 students a day to 350 or more, most in the younger ages, said Angie Reiber, the program director.
As those numbers have grown, so have the programs the Boys & Girls Club offers.
“This is not just hang out recreation,” she said. “It’s more quality, not quantity.”
Now the club offers a sewing program, an arts program and music programs, in addition to the learning center.
“Our mentoring program has grown,” Reiber said. “That has been a big help.”
While the expansion of programs at the Boys & Girls Club is exciting, so is a new opportunity in Little League.
Moffitt and Crane might not be thrilled about a lack of quality fields, but they are thrilled about a new partnership involving all the different cities in Coos County and also Reedsport.
Starting this year, the North Bend, Coos Bay, Bandon, Coquille, Myrtle Point and Reedsport leagues all are under the same umbrella of one Cal Ripken League.
“It’s really great to get all the teams playing against each other,” Moffitt said.
And starting next year, the region will form All-Star teams that feature the top players in each city.
“We’ll take the best of the best and fill an all-county team so we have a chance to go to the state tournament and see if we can push that team to regionals,” he said.
“We have been trying to get all the teams under the same umbrella for the past 20 years. That was the biggest breakthrough getting that done.”
Teams can advance in four age groups — 9-and-under, 10-and-under, 11-and-under and 12-and-under. Moffitt said the South Coast group probably would field two all-star teams next year.
But with the growing numbers at the younger levels, the area could try to field teams in all four age groups in the future.
Asked if he was excited about that, Moffitt gave just a one-word answer.