The numbers have been posted for the newly approved Montclair Recreation Little League, and they go against the grain of baseball trends across the nation.
While many towns are seeing youth baseball participation dwindle as other sports and interests attract more and more kids, Montclair’s numbers are up.
A big part of it is that local officials finally decided, after a couple years of discussion, to become affiliated with Little League Baseball Inc., which runs Little League nationally and worldwide.
For years, the primary youth baseball leagues in Montclair were run by the township’s Office of Recreation and Cultural Affairs and the Montclair Baseball-Softball Club.
With the new affiliation the Montclair Recreation Little League grew from 90 third to sixth graders last season to 130 this year.
Morris Rockmaker, president of the Montclair Recreation Little League, said the success of this past season was due to word-of-mouth and the brand name.
“I attribute the higher level of participation to a combination of us actively getting the word out and the attractiveness of the Little League brand,” Rockmaker said. “Across the board I think kids and their families had a great experience this season.”
Adam Scigliano, head coach of the Montclair 11U team, pointed to the Little League brand as enticing parents and kids to sign up for baseball.
“This is the first year that Montclair has had a Little League charter, and it has created a ton of buzz in town, drawing new kids to baseball that never played before in our rec program,” Scigliano said.
“Something about the Little League brand resonates with people. I think it’s because parents grew up playing Little League, they are drawn to signing up their child.”
Rockmaker said the new kids coming out for Montclair Recreation Little League were from two camps.
“I’d say about half of the new kids were also pretty new to organized sports in general, while the other half were soccer, basketball and football players that decided to give baseball a try,” he said. “We were thrilled to welcome both groups into the fold.”
Rockmaker praised the help provided by parents and adults in bolstering baseball in the township. “A lot of the credit goes to our 10 volunteer coaches,” he added.
The league also made sure there was plenty of competitive balance in the regular season. Rockmaker pointed out that the title games in the two levels, minor league (third and fourth graders) and major league (fifth and sixth graders), were each decided by one run.
“We put a lot of thought and effort into forming teams in order to make sure there was good competitive balance,” he said. “Our thinking was that kids would have more fun — and learn more — by playing in competitive games, and it really did play out that way.”
Part of the affiliation with Little League Baseball Inc. involves postseason tournaments.
Montclair 11U took a great first step by winning the program’s first Little League district title, taking District 8. The league had three all-star teams. Along with 11U, there was 10U and 12U, which also played in district tournaments.
“Winning districts with our 11U team puts Montclair on everyone’s radar and lets them all know that we are a team to be reckoned with in the future,” Scigliano said.
The Montclair 11U squad was very impressive in its three games in the district tournament, outscoring the opposition 36-0, including defeating Nutley American, 10-0, in the finals recently.
“As a coach, father of a kid on the team and someone who has been with these kids for the last three years, it puts a huge smile on my face to see this team win the district championship,” Scigliano said.
“They have all worked so hard and battled through so many ups and downs over the last couple of seasons, and to see them all come together and get over the hump and win districts in our first season is amazing.”
Montclair is currently in the 11U sectionals, which are taking place in Nutley this week. Montclair lost the opener of the sectional double-elimination tournament, 7-5, to Hoboken on Sunday, July 10.
But Montclair came back on Monday night, July 11, to win, defeating Fort Lee, 10-0.