A Changing Game

Baseball may be America’s pastime, but here in Naperville it’s facing some competition.
The Naperville Little League has been around since 1952 and heading into their 60th year, organizers are worried about the league’s future.

“We used to ride our bikes to the park and play,” said league President Randy Buresh. “Now everything is spread out.”

The game of youth baseball has remained the same, but for Buresh, who’s been with the Naperville Little League for nearly 20 years, some things have changed since coaching his own children in the 1990s.

“When the kids started, it was the thing to do,” Buresh said. “Everyone played Little League. Now there’s traveling leagues and other sports that have become popular.”

Despite 200 teams and nearly 2,000 participants, in the last 10 years the league has seen a drop in enrollment.

Bruce Hammond of the National Sporting Goods Association says it’s all part of a nationwide trend.

The numbers in baseball have decreased 19.8% in the last decade. Back in 2000 that number was 15.6 million participants, in 2010 that number was about 12.6 million.

In that same time, participation in football and hockey are up over 20 percent.

Naperville Little League Umpire Director, Jim Meurer, has seen the numbers in baseball drop.

“I think the kids have more choices than ever,” Meurer said. “Especially with the advent of lacrosse and summer basketball programs.”

Because of that the league is offering something for everyone. They split up their 8 and 9-year-olds to focus on skill development and the introduction of competition. For 10, 11 and 12-year-olds, there’s the Majors and A-League divisions.

“In the long run, if we can get them in, teach them how to play and the skills they need, that will keep them interested and involved,” said Buresh.

Something that might be encouraging is that according to the NSGA, from 2009 to 2010, participation in baseball went up 8.9%. That could be the beginning of an upward trend.

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