Kids, parents feel effect of no Little League

Photo by Corey Stolzenbach/The Herald
Fourth grader Grayson Bolling of Huntingburg, 10, and father Derek discussed how the delay of the Little League season is affecting them.

By COREY STOLZENBACH
sports@dcherald.com

HUNTINGBURG — Grayson Bolling would normally be spending his Saturday practicing with the J Cards Baseball travel team that he is part of. Grayson, 10, is a member of a baseball household. His father, Derek, is a coach and is the player agent on the Huntingburg Little League Board of Directors. Younger brother Graham, 7, is another enthusiast of America’s pastime.

However, March 21 wasn’t a typical Saturday for the Bollings. Grayson, Graham and Griffin, 3, sat in the living room of their Huntingburg townhouse watching TV instead of doing something baseball-related. Such is the reality as people are confined to their homes during this time of self-isolation. Grayson was soon going to be suiting up for Raider Black of Huntingburg Little League, but he has to keep waiting. Little League International originally postponed activities until April 6, but now May 11 is the new date. Grayson really wants to get back on the field, but until then, he’s staying optimistic that he can take the field this season.

"I hope so,” the fourth grader said.

Derek does not want to be negative, but also is taking things from a realistic approach. He’s realizing the possibility that kids won’t be going back to school. Derek’s come to grips with the fact that there might not be a Little League season, especially in the wake of all Indiana schools being closed until May 1. The season, if there is one, would be shortened.

“The travel ball’s a lot of fun, but there’s something about the Little League, the rec league ball,” Derek said. “You know a lot of the parents. You know a lot of the coaches and your grandparents come, and it’s just a family thing. Baseball’s the pastime, especially in our area. That’s what you do — you grab a lawn chair and you grab a drink and you go down and you watch your kids play.”

One of Grayson’s scheduled teammates with Raider Black, Noah Ring, 11, a fifth grader, is fully aware that he might not have the opportunity to see the field this year.

“It’s hard knowing that I might not be able to play at all this year,” Noah said. “I’m just hoping that it’s not going to be canceled, just postponed.”

Noah did work with Southridge junior catcher Chase Taylor before all of the novel coronavirus gripped the nation. It shocked him, aggravated him. Now, he’s practicing in his basement, doing work off of a tee and throwing baseballs against a wall, taking that as an opportunity to work on his fielding.

Noah's father, Daniel, shares that disappointment, as he’s coached Noah for many years, and was going to be a coach for Raider Black this year. He shares in Daniel’s disappointment, but knows people staying healthy is the top priority. He doesn’t think there’s going to be baseball this year, but eagerly anticipates that day if and when it does come.

“I think it would be awesome,” Daniel said. “I think about it all the time. I would love to see the boys out there, see them smiling. It’s just a lot of fun, something we all look forward to.”

Fellow Raider Black coach and Huntingburg Little League safety officer Chad Blessinger questioned at what point the organization might reduce or call its season and refund parents, especially for the families who either are or will soon be struggling financially.

“As a board, we’re just kind of going day by day right now,” Chad said.

The Blessinger family has been around Huntingburg Little League for a long time. Chad’s father, Scot, coached him when he was a kid, and was president of the board at one time. He’s coached his sixth-grade son, Owen, 12, since Owen was 4 years old. This year would be the last year Chad would get to do so, but this delay is hammering away at that, much to Owen’s chagrin.

“I’m pretty mad because it’s my last year,” Owen said. “Next year, I’m in middle school, so I won’t be in Little League anymore.”

Chad is still holding onto hope of the season starting May 11. However, as the schools stay further closed and Little League International keeps postponing the start date, he finds himself dreading what’s next.

“I foresee another push back to that May 11th date,” Chad said.

Chad is looking at the bright side through all of this, that there’s always next year, and he’s hoping that kids won’t put their baseballs down in the wake of this delay. It creates an opportunity for parents to spend time doing baseball-related activities with their kids.

“Play in your own backyard,” he said. “Get a ball and throw with your family.”

Forest Park Youth Sports President Kyle Greulich said his organization is at that same wait-and-see, standstill point that Huntingburg Little League is going through at the moment. Greulich, like Blessinger, said parents have not asked for refunds, and is hoping there will be some kind of season.

However, he knows there’s also the likely prospect that he won’t be able to coach his second-grade son, Koby, 8, this year.

“He knows that it’s postponed,” Kyle said. “He knows that we’re not starting baseball for a little while, but I don’t know if he knows there’s a possibility he may not play this year. We haven’t had that discussion yet, but I’m afraid it’s probably going to have to happen sooner rather than later.”

Kyle imagines Koby won’t take it well. The two are outside doing something baseball-related almost every night of the week when they can. He thinks his son will understand, though, that it’s for keeping people safe.

Kyle is also an assistant with the Forest Park varsity team, and said FPYS will follow the same calendar the school does. Gov. Eric Holcomb made an announcement on March 23 for residents to stay in their homes for the next two weeks, with the exception of work or other necessary activities. Kyle said the governor’s decision does not affect things within the organization.

Yet, since he’s on both sides of being a coach for the Rangers and first-year president of FPYS, it’s tough for him to be optimistic and say kids will go back to school and things will go back to normal. Kyle said other parents are holding out hope as well and staying optimistic, but he knows health and safety are top priority. Having a son himself makes him step back and prioritize in situations like these.

Kyle has the same concerns Chad Blessinger does that there will be another postponement.

“In today’s times, that’s kind of what you’re waiting for,” Kyle said. “You’re waiting for the next thing to get postponed. You’re waiting for the next thing to get canceled, but you know in the back of your mind, there’s always that slim hope that everything kind of works itself out, and we’re hopeful that it’s going to happen. But as quick as things are moving, and as quick as things change, there’s nothing to do but kind of wonder when that next postponement’s going to happen.”

Right now, though, FPYS still looks to take the field this summer unless Little League cancels the season completely. It might just be playing within the local league against local teams, but there might be other restrictions that come the league’s way if school gets canceled.

“With the May 11th postponement, it’s basically their tournaments are scheduled as is,” Kyle said. “So, it’s definitely going to cut into our season, but our job is to prepare them as much as we can, and in the limited time that we have, we’re just going to do our best to prepare them for success and get them on the road to where we need to go.”

Jason Stamm of Jasper Youth Baseball said the organization hasn’t had its draft for teams yet. He anticipates that might happen before the May 11 return date so they’re ready to start practice.

Stamm believes the season will be able to start if school is back in session on time during this closure. Stamm is optimistic the kids will return to school. Son Carter is a senior baseball player for Jasper. Jason thinks it will largely depend on what happens following this week’s stay-at-home order.

“I think that the United States and the individual states are doing a good job of trying to do what they can to try to curb this thing and knock it out as soon as possible,” Jason said.

The one age group that is going to be impacted most is the 10- to 12-year-old group because of All-Stars. He noted that younger kids can be allowed to play until August. Jason might try to piece something together in July and August, even if Little League International decides to do away with the season entirely. It wouldn’t be under the Little League banner, he’d have to get approval by the Jasper Park Board.

“If it’s only going to be two or three weeks, it’s probably not worth the hassle of going through all that,” he said. “The other thing is, if the season gets wiped out, from a financial standpoint, we’ve got to reimburse a lot of money, and we've got to write a lot of checks to people and give them their money back for the year. I don’t even really want to think about the nightmare that that’s going to cause.”

He knows there are things more important than Jasper Youth baseball and Little League baseball, but it would mean a lot to be able to play baseball.

“I think getting back to a little bit of normalcy is going to be huge,” Jason said. “I think the baseball programs — Little League and the city’s youth programs — would be a huge factor in doing that.”




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