OLL thriving in second season
The dreaded sophomore slump was looming over the Olentangy Little League as it entered its second season this summer.
After an opening year in which participation was almost twice as much as initial estimates (905 players versus 500 expected), it would take something big if the OLL hoped to match the success of its rookie campaign.
Big is exactly what the league got as 1,150 children, ages 4-14, were signed up to play on one of the 101 teams, which were divided into three charters named Braves, Patriots and Pioneers.
"We couldn't be happier," OLL president Michael Falter said. "The community has really embraced it. It's a big group effort. It takes a lot to run a baseball league."
It's not just the number of players that has increased. Businesses have lined up to help, with the 73 team sponsors being three times more than last season.
"There was tremendous support," Falter said. "The townships (also) have been very good to us."
"That was one of the great improvements for this year," vice president Doug Billings said. "It really makes a difference. In small towns across America, Little League is just part of the community and the local businesses are happy to be a part of it."
Billings moved to the area from San Diego, where his son played T-ball in Little League. He served on the OLL's board of directors last year before stepping into the vice president's role this season.
"When we moved here I looked for Little League and there wasn't one," he said. "It actually surprised me."
There are seven leagues for players: Junior T-ball (ages 4-5), Senior T-ball (5-6), Coach Pitch (6-8 and the most popular, with 280 players), Minor League (8-10), AAA (9-11), Major League (10-12) and Junior League (13-14).
"We have a league and a level for every player," Falter said. "You get a lot more confidence when you're in a position to succeed. That's what we're trying to do, put kids in spots where they'll do well.
"So far, so good."
Once the regular season and postseason tournaments have concluded, each of the charters has three all-star teams they send to district tournaments.
The U12 district regionals were held July 5-10 in New Albany. The Patriots went 0-2 while the Braves went 2-2 and the Pioneers went 3-1 and advanced to the District 5 finals that began July 12 in New Albany, where they played the first- and second-place teams from Mount Vernon and Cambridge.
The U11 teams began their district regionals in Cambridge on July 14 and the U10 tournament was July 10-17 in Pataskala.
All in all, those in charge thought it was a great season.
"We're definitely still learning and still growing," Falter said. "We're still working out the administrative part. But as far as the play between the lines, the boys did an excellent job."
"It's going well," Billings said. "We're not where we want to be exactly yet. That's not to say it wasn't a successful season. I think we did most things right. I'm pleased where we're at and I'm looking forward to it getting even better in the future."
As the numbers continue to increase, Falter believes the three charters could be run a little more independently.
"I think it's a real possibility we could run them individually," he said. "But we're definitely going to need more volunteers and more help. We want to continue to grow. We hope to build something that lives well beyond all of us."