- January 22, 2015
WINTER GARDEN When the call came, so too did the questions.
After filing the participation numbers for Winter Garden Little League last spring, league President Matt Eidelman fielded the phone call from a very curious representative with Little League International.
As it turns out, the questions Little League had for Eidelman were because of an achievement. In the past two years, Winter Garden Little League has had the top increase in percentage of new players to the league in Florida and the third-highest percentage increase in the nation.
“Our league is on a tremendous upswing, and (Little League International) wanted to know why,” Eidelman said. “They wanted to know what was happening, what we were doing differently.”
That curiosity comes at a time when most little leagues in America are suffering annual participation declines of about 15% due to myriad factors — from players being poached by travel ball teams to a decline in interest in the game.
The growth at Winter Garden Little League can, in part, be attributed to the surge in growth in Winter Garden and surrounding areas. But David Ocasio, a coach at WGLL and a member of the board of directors responsible for public relations, said there is more to it.
“We have a very active board who is passionate about the game,” Ocasio said. “It’s a family-oriented league, basically a big community.”
Various improvements have been implemented at the league in recent years, but innovation truly began when Eidelman was named president about a year ago. Since then, there has been a push to try new things — from selling the naming rights to fields to help build partnerships with local businesses to trying new food at the concession stand.
“We constantly are changing things; we’re doing things that we’ve never done before,” Eidelman said.
An attention to detail and keeping the experience as first class as possible has led to more enjoyment for kids and the families, the pair said. To keep kids engaged in a time when interests clamoring for their attention are plentiful, part of the challenge is to identify what kids care about.
“It can seem like a very small thing, but when you think about it, it’s a big thing for kids — we keep the uniforms fresh,” Ocasio said, noting this year’s fall season would feature throwback uniforms, including the now-defunct Montreal Expos.
Of course, both men said quality of coaching trumps everything else they can do as a board, so board members at WGLL have worked hard to create systems to put volunteer coaches in position to be successful.
“We make sure that our managers and coaches are aware that we appreciate them,” Eidelman said. “We really dedicated ourselves to making sure that we do everything we can not to put a new guy, who hasn’t done much coaching, into a manager’s spot.”
The proof is in the numbers. WGLL was recognized by Little League International for its growth in the spring season, the only season it recognizes as an official season. However, the growth isn’t limited to the spring. Fall baseball, set to start in September, has seen an increase each year: from 302 players in 2014, to 352 in 2015, to north of 400 this fall.
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected]