It was during the Great Depression that a laid off oil company worker named Carl Stotz started what would come to be known as Little League baseball.
In that first summer, the summer of 1938, Stotz gathered children from his neighborhood together and experimented with different types of equipment and different field dimensions. No games were played that summer, but a spirit emerged.
Stotz and his wife Grayce took the experiment a step further in 1939, enlisting the help of brothers George and Bert Bebble and their wives, Annabelle and Eloise, respectively. Stotz and the Bebble brothers were the managers of the first three teams: Lycoming Dairy, Lundy Lumber and Jumbo Pretzel.
John and Peggy Lindemuth soon joined the group, with the eight volunteers comprising the first Little League board of directors.
Since its inception, the organization that guarantees all participants time on the field has grown into a training ground for boys and girls ages 5-18.
In 2007, there were 7,030 leagues and 2,640,285 male and female participants worldwide.
What started with 30 players has grown by leaps and bounds and one regulation as stated in the Little League Rules and Regulations is a main cause: A participation fee may be assessed by a local league, but at no time should payment of a fee be a prerequisite for participation in the Little League program.
An op-ed piece in the New York Times in August of 2008 mentioned that when Stotz “organized the first games in 1939, knowing firsthand how tough the times were, he refused to charge parents for the privilege of having their children in his league. He relied on donations from local businesses instead.”
The original sponsorship fee of $30 helped to pay for equipment and uniforms for 30 players.
While the cost to play Little League has inflated with the rest of the world’s expenses, the original spirit of allowing participation no matter one’s socioeconomic background has remained the same — with Hall County serving as an example.
In January 2006, the Board of Directors for the Gainesville Parks and Recreation Department began the Children at Play Fund to assist children otherwise unable to afford to play.
In 2009, three percent of the 449 Little League participants for the Gainesville Parks and Recreation Department used the fund.
“The thing for us is that we want every child to be able to play,” said Julie Butler, Marketing and Communications Director for the Gainesville department. “Practice and games are a safe place for kids. They are under supervision and while learning the game, are also learning life skills.
“It’s important for kids to be involved.”
Fees to play Little League range from $50-$90, depending on the age of the participant, with a $10 discount in all leagues for Gainesville residents. The fund, sponsored by local corporations and individuals, pays a percentage of that fee with the smallest being 10 percent.
“What the individual pays is based on income,” Butler said. “It’s hard for parents who have multiple children of participation age to pay for them all, so the fund helps in that regard too.”
In Hall County, where Little League is sponsored by school booster clubs instead of the Hall County Parks and Leisure Department, scholarship funds are in place in an effort to get children on the fields.
“Each booster club has money set aside,” said Hall County Parks and Leisure Assistant Athletic Coordinator Steve Hutson. “They don’t turn people away.”
The fees set by the booster clubs range from $45-$65 with the Parks and Leisure getting anywhere from $10-$15 per player for not only making the schedule, but allowing use of the county fields.
In the same way that Stotz formed Little League as not only a distraction for himself during hard economic times, but for children, Hutson knows the importance of the springtime rite of passage.
“Little League teaches kids sportsmanship and responsibility,” Hutson said. “And more importantly gives them something to do and keeps them off the streets.
“It would be irresponsible of us to not allow them to play no matter what they could pay.”