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Mar 12, 2014 11:04 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Flanders Little League Folds After Four Decades

Mar 12, 2014 11:04 AM

After more than 40 years of cracking bats, hot dogs and baseball fun, Flanders Little League is no more.

Wayne Ford, who served as the most recent president of the club, said Tuesday that too few players have signed up to form teams in each of the age divisions, leaving board members with no alternative but to fold the league.

He announced the end of Flanders Little League in a statement posted on its Facebook page on February 27, though news has slowly spread throughout the hamlet.

Mr. Ford said league membership had dwindled over the past decade, hitting an all-time-low this year of about 40 players. Chuck Rocco, the treasurer of the league and a former president, disputed that number, stating that just 16 kids registered for the spring season this year.

Despite the disappointment, Mr. Ford said he was looking forward to having his 9-year-old son, Dylan, join the Riverhead Little League, which is welcoming players from Flanders. He added that the Riverhead club has more players and teams, and will offer a good chance for the kids to get to know one another before they attend middle school and high school together.

“He loves the game, he loves to play,” Mr. Ford said of his son.

The switch will come at a steeper price for those parents who had intended to enroll their children in the Flanders Little League. In Flanders, organizers charged $10 to register for tee ball, $20 for the minor league and $30 for Little League; Over in Riverhead, organizers charge between $100 and $150 for registration, depending on the age of children and the league they are enrolled in.

But like Mr. Ford, Mr. Rocco said he was focusing on the positive memories of the Flanders Little League, which thrived for years. “My memory of it was a good one,” he said.

He explained that three years ago, when he served as president of the league, as many as 100 kids were signed up to play at the Iron Point Park field in Flanders. That number dropped rapidly—for still unclear reasons.

“We’re mostly pine barrens and the trees don’t swing bats,” he said, referring to the hamlet.

The league also lacked younger adults who were willing to take over and bring new energy to the Little League board, he added. Mr. Rocco and others served even after their children were too old to participate in the league.

Mr. Rocco also said he wanted to thank all those who volunteered their time to make the league possible, including founders Bob Fox and Mike Pace, as well as Justin Squires and Vicki Farruggia.

Tony Sammartano, president of Riverhead Little League, said he was happy to welcome Flanders players into the mix. He said the change would give all the players a little added excitement and new experiences. As of this week, he did not know how many children from Flanders had enrolled in the Riverhead league.

Mr. Rocco agreed with Mr. Sammartano, noting that the change will help the Flanders players get to know the modified, junior varsity and varsity coaches, which have a tight relationship with Riverhead Little League.

Mr. Sammartano did note, however, that he was disappointed that the Flanders Little League board members decided to disband just a week before the Riverhead Little League had closed out its registration.

“They waited until the last possible minute and it set us back a whole lot,” he said. “I think it’s a great thing for the kids, but logistically it wasn’t well thought out on their end.”

The Riverhead Little League has its opening day tentatively scheduled for Saturday, April 19, though that could be pushed back a week, Mr. Sammartano said.

The Flanders players will still have a chance to play at their home field at Iron Point Park, which the town purchased and created during former Southampton Town Supervisor Patrick Heaney’s administration. In 2007, the town added a new lighting system to allow the league to play night games.

“I don’t see it as a bad thing at all for the kids—I see it as a plus,” said Paul Guido, administrator of New York State’s Little League District 36, which covers eastern Suffolk County. “I think it’s healthier for the kids that they merge.”

Others do not feel the same way. Flanders resident Fran Cobb, who served as president of the local league for eight years, said she was “devastated” to hear the news. She added that she felt the current board members didn’t do enough to advertise the league or raise funds to support it.

“They didn’t put the effort forth to get these kids to sign up,” she said. “It’s very sad.”

At a Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association meeting on Monday, Southampton Town Councilman Brad Bender, who lives in Northampton, said he was concerned for the players whose families could not afford the steeper costs of the Riverhead league, or could not provide transportation to the fields in Riverhead. Riverhead Little League charges $150 for majors and minors baseball, and majors softball, $124 for minor AA baseball and softball, and $100 for minor A baseball, softball and tee ball.

Mr. Sammartano said he is looking for a place to fly the Flanders Little League banner at the Riverhead fields for the 2014 season.

“We welcome the Flanders kids,” he said. “It’s a good thing. It’s a marriage, it’s not a takeover.”

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Sad, participation in general has declined over the electronic times, I would rather win as a team then playing an electronic game. Hope it comes back eventually.
By MACDADDY (49), SOUTHAMPTON on Mar 15, 14 11:07 AM
pathetic just pathetic
By louse pt. (143), springs on Mar 15, 14 11:47 AM
Sad, especially for the kids.
By suzer67 (51), nanuet on Mar 16, 14 2:27 AM
its a shame alot of great players started in flanders little league
By coach hansen (1), riverhead on Mar 31, 14 9:06 PM