The 2011 Little League season was a banner one that kicked off April 30 with opening day ceremonies that included a mini carnival, radio broadcast, baseball and softball games and the raffle of a 42-inch high definition television.
The campaign continued into the postseason with the local program qualifying both boys and girls all-star teams for area and district tournaments.
In the Area 1 Little League softball tournament in Holbrook, the Payson stars etched themselves into the record book by becoming the first local fast pitch team to win a postseason game in the four-year history of the program.
As successful as the past year was, Little League officers are planning an even better 2012 season.
But to attain those lofty aspirations, the program needs new board members to step up when an organizational meeting is held at 7 p.m. this evening, Nov. 8, in the Rim Country Middle School cafeteria.
“We are in need of new volunteers to take over the board,” said board member Jeri Stockman.
This year, more than 300 children are expected to participate in the Little League program.
The local league board of directors is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the league. This board, however, does not have the authority to change any of the policies of Little League.
Officers include president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, player agents and possibly coaching coordinators.
The president, as chief administrator, then selects and appoints managers, coaches, umpires and committees. However, all appointments must receive final approval of the league’s board of directors.
Importantly, the president is the officer with whom Little League International maintains contact. The president also represents the league in the district organization.
The early years
In recent years, Slade Gibson has shouldered many Little League responsibilities as a Payson president, but the roots of the program can be traced to the early 1960s when facilities were almost non-existent, there were enough players for only two teams and a handful of dedicated volunteers spearheaded the sport.
Payson’s first mayor, Ted Pettet remembers those humble beginnings well, “I was the high school baseball coach and I brought the (first) charter down from Flagstaff.”
With charter in hand, the volunteers — including Junior Haught, Larry Wilbanks and Fred Chilson — went about building the town’s first Little League park on a log storage field located west of the Beeline, just south of the old lumber mill.
“We used chicken wire to build the backstop,” Pettet said. “And we moved logs to give us enough room for a field.”
Ronnie McDaniel, who coached for about 10 seasons, recalls the league was started, as “something for the young kids to do — it wasn’t as intense as it is today.”
Pettet remembers he asked townspeople to start a league as a means to build a foundation for the high school program.
“We wanted the kids to have at least some knowledge of baseball when they got to be freshmen,” he said.
In those early years it was a struggle to keep the program up and running, but as the years went by, the town eventually was able to field all-star teams that traveled to postseason tournaments in Winslow and Flagstaff.
In 1976, about the time Pettet was serving as the town’s first mayor, the Rumsey I baseball and softball park was built and became the new home of the Little Leaguers.
“By that time, almost every kid that did well in high school baseball had played Little League,” Pettet said.
“In those years the program was growing over what it had been, but we still struggled,” said Ronnie McDaniel. “But there were some pretty good players — Billy Hardt and the Connolly boys.”
Fast pitch arrives
After the parks department dropped its girls slow pitch offerings four years ago, Little League jump-started a fast pitch program. The first Little League softball game was played in Payson in the spring of 2008.
“It’s finally here, we have a start and it’s exciting,” said Felicia Moore, then an assistant coach on the Payson Thunder.
Payson Elementary School teacher Allison Randall, who helped found the league, agreed, “It is fantastic, so much fun.”
The thinking in abandoning town-sponsored slow pitch in favor of fast pitch was that the new program would better prepare players for high school softball, which is fast pitch.
In just a year or two, some of those players who were weaned on fast pitch will begin filtering into the high school program.
If all goes as expected, those athletes should help the Lady Horns attain new heights.
Little League was founded in 1939 and became the world’s largest youth sports program. In six decades, Little League has grown from three teams to nearly 200,000 teams in all 50 states and more than 80 countries.
Officials say the basic goal of the program remains the same: give children a game that provides fundamental principals of sportsmanship, fair play and teamwork.