Community-based, volunteer driven youth sports programs have faced many challenges over the past decade. Competition with for-profit travel teams, one-sport specialization among younger children, declining funding levels from municipalities, a shrinking volunteer base and increasing expenditures for field maintenance, coach and player training and paid game officials have made running a local Little League baseball and softball program a challenge for the dedicated volunteers who remain.
New Jersey District 6 Little League has found that partnering with other community based organizations, local businesses and business groups has helped them grow in this challenging environment.
Little League is the largest youth sports organization in the world, serving 2.4 million children with over 1 million volunteers. But, at its core, Little League is actually small. The most important component of Little League is the local league. N.J. District 6 Little League is made up of 11 local Little League programs, plus a District-wide Challenger Division for developmentally disabled children. The leagues serve children ages 4-16 years old in 15 southeastern Bergen County towns – having added programs in Bogota, Hackensack, Rochelle Park and Edgewater in the past few years.
The District serves as the volunteer link between the local leagues and Little League International. The District does the following:
- Provides pre-season safety, coaching and player development clinics.
- Coordinates league activities throughout the year.
- Operates District, Section and State Tournaments along the road to the Little League World Series.
In 2014, Little Ferry/South Hackensack Little League hosted the 9-10 Year Old New Jersey State Championship. In 2018, Fort Lee Little League duplicated this feat to rave reviews throughout the State. Prestigious events like these are not possible without a supportive relationship with the local community.
The relationship between community and the local Little League has always been the cornerstone of the program, with the league strengthening the community through positive youth development while relying on the support of volunteers, local businesses and municipal governments. As a member of the Meadowlands Chamber, District 6 seeks to build upon these natural relationships and strengthen ties to the communities it serves.
District 6 has seen tremendous growth over the past few years. In 2013, 21 teams participated in the post-season District tournaments. This past year, there were over 50 teams. This growth in tournament play was made possible by a corresponding expansion of regular season programs supported by dedicated volunteers – and with assistance from local business partners.
In 2014, the leagues of the District worked together to offer programs for 13-16 year olds. The Junior and Senior divisions allowed kids who otherwise would have “graduated” out of Little League to continue playing for several more years. In its first year, the Palisades Park/Leonia Senior League team advanced all the way to the State Tournament. This past season, 2019, three District 6 teams played in state tournaments – two of them in girls’ softball.
In 2015, the District worked with Little League to expand its offerings of girls’ softball. By developing an inter-league regular season schedule, smaller towns who could only field one or two teams to start had opponents to play. The schedule also enhanced the experience of their players, helping these leagues to attract more players this past season. For the 2016 season, the District staged softball tournaments at every age level as baseball, except Senior League. By last season, every one of the 11 leagues had softball programs.
Four years ago, district tournaments were created for 7-8 year olds in softball and baseball. These coach-pitch tournaments grew out of regular season offerings in a division between tee-ball for their youngest players (4-6 year olds) and those in the Minor and Major divisions (ages 8-12). The proceeds of the 7-8 Year Old Coach-Pitch tournaments were given to our Challenger Division. Over four years, almost $5000 was raised.
This is just one example of how the leagues of New Jersey District 6 not only give children a place to play. They teach these kids positive values, build character, create life-long friendships and strengthen communities. By joining organizations such as the Meadowlands Chamber and working on its Nonprofit Committee, District 6 volunteers have gained invaluable insight into development strategies, organizational skills and have learned what it means to be a part of a greater community of those who seek to help others.
District 6 has benefited from the generosity of local business partners. The past few seasons, it’s programs relied on financial support from Hackensack University Medical Center, Diamond Chemical Company, EJG Sports, Morton’s The Steakhouse, Bogota Savings Bank, The River Palm Terrace, Visions Federal Credit Union, MedExpress, Babe’s Taxi, Premier Oral Surgery, Pepsi Beverage Company, Jamie Weiss Realty, Inserra Supermarkets, Procida Funding, Bank of New Jersey, ConnectOne Bank, Open Road Mazda, Stop & Shop, Zip Sprout and the Meadowlands Chamber.
For more information about District 6 and its programs, please visit: www.NJD6LL.org