By Jean DePlacido
---- — People of all ages love to play wiffle ball — especially kids.
So the Golden Stick Wiffle Ball League is launching a full scale youth program on the North Shore in partnership with the recreation departments of Salem, Beverly, Danvers and Hamilton-Wenham.
The league will be open to youngsters ages 7-13, and the best part is they can form their own teams with as few as three players or as many as five. Teams will play in their own cities and towns, with winners vying for the 2013 Golden Stick Wiffle League Juniors North Shore Final Four championship. The huge extravaganza, called ‘The Open’, will be held on Saturday, Sept. 7 at Patton Park in Hamilton.
That event will take place after city championships and Comeback Cup games are held for teams in the bottom half seedings. Each city champ will then compete for the overall title, while all teams not winning local championships will be able to compete in the Junior Player’s Cup at The Open.
“One of the most beautiful things about the game is that it’s ageless,” said GSWL president Lou Levesque, who grew up in Salem, lived in Danvers, works in Beverly and now resides in Hamilton. “Our motto is ‘A backyard game taken way too far’, and we’re the first and only licensed league.
“Our adult leagues have been flourishing (established in Danvers in 2002), and this year we decided to concentrate on a youth program. Everybody loves to play wiffle ball, and we’re going to do everything we can to make it a fun time. We will have a promotional tournament first, and if something stands out that needs to be changed we’ll do it.
“I played when I was a kid and always loved it. The best thing is you can continue to play at any age.”
Try it, you’ll like it
An optional free promotional tournament will take place next week on different nights in the four communities, allowing youngsters to get a taste of the game before the regular four-week season begins.
Levesque said an optional 50-minute clinic will be put on each week (4:30-5:20 p.m.) followed by three back-to back games from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.. Levesque encourages parents to drop their children off early so they can benefit by learning more about the rules, pitching, hitting and fielding drills to improve skills.
Games will be played at at Plains Park in Danvers, Castle Hill Park in Salem, North Beverly School and Fairhaven Field for Hamilton-Wenham. The final week (August 19) culminates with one night of playoffs and a championship in all four communities, followed by the North Shore Final Four to determine one winner for 2013 and the Junior Player’s Cup at Patton Park.
Cost of the program is $75 per player, with 25 percent of all gross proceeds donated to the Recreation Departments in the four communities. Players will receive a GSWL shirt, team colored embroidered hat, game socks and trophies for the winners.
“These are unique things about our program,” said Levesque. “Unlike other youth sports there are no coaches involved; the kids are in control. Teams are so small that the youngsters will get up to bat at least once, possibly more often in each inning. There’s no sitting around. People can get together with buddies, siblings or neighborhood kids to form a team.”
Last year, said Levesque, he did a one-day introduction for youth in all four towns and learned a lot.
“We had 20 kids show up in Hamilton-Wenham, 11 in Beverly, two in Danvers and nobody in Salem. We found out we have to do better at getting the word out,” said Levesque. “It did allow us to work in an intimate environment and offer 1-on-1 instruction for the smaller groups. Beverly won the Final Four.”
Levesque said an all-girls team from Danvers will compete; a few others will form co-ed teams.
If anybody wants to play but doesn’t have enough players to form a team, GSWL will help put one together. On each there will be a pitcher and three fielders with up to five in the batting lineup. The small numbers guarantee maximum participation.
This is not the first experience for GSWL in running a youth program. Levesque said past experiences will be helpful in making sure everything runs smoothly.
“We’ve been working with the Danvers Park Department for many years, and each summer we offer a field trip for an all-day wiffle ball tournament at Great Oak School,” he said. “Last year we had three bus loads show up with 150 kids. We run it for free to thank Danvers for the use of the field. Now that we’ve spread out to other communities, we’ll probably do the same for them.”
Levesque has seen the sport grow and increase in popularity not only locally, but all over the country as well as internationally. In 2009 the champions from New York and Massachusetts were flown to Las Vegas for the national championship.
Now, he said, there are adult leagues in Georgia, Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Los Angeles. GSWL has also received the first licensing deal with Wiffe Ball, Inc., a second generation family-owned business and official maker of wiffle balls.
“We’re excited about our junior program,” said Levesque. “It was inspired largely because of our Youth Day in Danvers.
“The great thing about wiffle ball is we can fit 5-6 fields into the area of one baseball field. We roll into a soccer or baseball field or any open area, and turn it into multiple wiffle ball playing areas. For the big end of the season event at Patton Park, we’ll dress up the fields for the championship games and hopefully get a lot of people out to watch.”