Consider a hypothetical scenario: Del Norte Little League fields an 11–12 All-Star team for softball. It’s a very good team, and Del Norte makes it all the way to the Western Regional Tournament. At that tournament, the young Warriors represent ... Oregon.
That scenario could become a reality for Del Norte Little League next season. In a vote on Dec. 17, members of the DNLL Board of Directors voted to remove the league from California District 26, which includes organizations in Humboldt and Trinity counties, and join another Little League district.
“We have permission from (the Little League Western Regional office),” Del Norte Little League president Travis Stover said. “All we’re waiting on now is signatures from all the presidents within our district, signatures of approval. I don’t anticipate anybody saying no.”
The other leagues within District 26 are: Arcata, Blue Lake-Fieldbrook, Eel River (Fortuna), Eureka, Klamath-Trinity (Hoopa), McKinleyville, Redwood Empire (Eureka) and Southern Humboldt (Garberville).
District 26 secretary Kathy Moody has helped Del Norte collect signatures of league presidents to approve the split; according to Stover, only the president of Klamath-Trinity Little League has not signed the petition.
Once the divorce is final, Stover said that DNLL will request approval to join Oregon District 8, which includes Brookings-Harbor, Central Point, Challenger (Cave Junction), Gold Beach, Grants Pass American, Grants Pass National, Illinois Valley (Cave Junction), Medford National and Rogue River.
The move must be formally approved by Little League’s Western Region office in San Bernardino and the national office in Williamsport, Pa. (Western Region Director Jim Gerstenslager, the primary contact for DNLL during this transition, did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment.)
At the crux of the matter is softball. The nine members of California District 26 voted this fall to separate their softball programs from Little League Baseball. Softball in the nine leagues will now be played under the banner of the Amateur Softball Association of America (ASA), which bills itself as the national governing body of softball.
Girls who play softball in District 26 have also played on ASA-sanctioned travel teams that compete in tournaments across the state and the West Coast. The nine members of District 26 have merged their Little League softball programs into an entity called Humboldt Fastpitch, an ASA-affiliated umbrella organization for recreational softball (what is presently offered by Little League) and travel softball. Humboldt Fastpitch President Kelly Helms and Vice President Nick Hetrick did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment.
“My personal opinion is, I think it’s a mistake on their part to go join ASA based on the availability of girls that want to play softball,” Stover said. “Girls may not want to join ASA because there’s a lot of traveling. Some parents might not be able to commit to that, as they might have a son who plays baseball.”
Del Norte’s desire to pair its youth baseball and softball programs under the Little League banner led to the Dec. 17 vote to leave District 26. While Stover has not formally contacted officials within Oregon District 8 about Del Norte Little League’s intentions, he said that Gerstenslager and the Western Region office approved a transfer to District 8 for three years, “at which time it will be re-evaluated.”
“I don’t foresee them saying, no, you have to go back to District 26,” he said.
Del Norte Little League does have other options in case of emergency. One would be to simply stay in District 26, a one-league softball district, but Stover dismissed this option as it pertained to All-Star play.
“I guess our softball program, they would get a waiver to play at the section level,” he said, “which is something we don’t want for our girls. We don’t want to automatically get this ride to the section tournament.”
A third option would be to join California District 1, which includes Little League organizations in Redding, Yreka and surrounding communities along the I-5 corridor. The travel expenditures and general distance make this a less palatable option, according to Stover.
The move has no effect on parents signing up their children for Del Norte Little League play. Signups will take place over the next two weeks; the Little League season will begin April 1, with All-Star play beginning June 15.
“Our concern is that our league continues to grow and flourish,” he said. “We voted to go this way because of our program.”