Newly elected Payson Little League President Keely Parker is expecting about 250 aspiring players to turn out this year for the spring and summer baseball and softball programs
A turnout of those numbers would be one of the largest since 2009 when almost 300 players showed up at Rumsey Park for tryouts.
First on the agenda for parents and young athletes is to sign up at one of three upcoming registration sessions.
Parker emphasizes registering early is crucial so she and her staff of 10 other officers can begin preparations for the 2012 campaign.
The first sign-up is to be held from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 15 and the second will be 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. the following day, Thursday, Feb. 16.
The final sign-up is 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 18. All three sessions will be held in the Rim Country Middle School gymnasium.
Little League is open to both boys and girls from 5 to 15 years of age. In registering, players must bring along a birth certificate and parents must sign a medical release and a parents’ code of conduct.
The fee for major and minor league play is $75 per child. If a second child in the family is playing, the fee is $70.
There is no fee for a third child.
Among Parker’s goals in her first year as president is to field a first-ever girls softball “coach pitch” league for 5- to 8-year-old players.
In the past, such a league has existed in baseball but not softball. Also in past seasons, coach pitch play began at 6 years of age, but this year will include 5-year-olds.
“We have been approved to have them start at 5 as long as they attend a ‘skills assessment’ to make sure they are capable of playing,” said Parker. “We are hoping by this to regain the coach pitch softball and add to the coach pitch baseball as well.”
Tryouts for both baseball and softball teams will be held March 3 at Rumsey Park. Times will be announced in the near future.
April 14 has been designated as opening day, which will be highlighted by the usual festive celebration that includes food booths, games, raffles, radio broadcasts, bounce houses and a full slate of league games.
With the new season just over the horizon, Parker is confident, “I feel it will be a great year.
“Everyone on the board is extremely willing and helpful.”
The roots of Payson’s highly successful Little League 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.
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.
He recalls John Chilson, Boyd Peace and the Owens brothers were some of the first players in Payson’s fledgling Little League program.
In those early years it was a struggle to keep the program up and running mostly due to a lack of funds and too few players and coaches. 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 the late 1960s, with the original field turning obsolete, the league’s playing site was moved from the makeshift field near the logging mill to the campus of Julia Randall School.
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.
He recalls then-high school baseball coach Tom Meck, who went on to be the school’s principal, also coached Little League, as did Neil MacVicar. Today, MacVicar remains active in senior softball circles.
Among the players to star in Little League during the 1970s was Tony McDaniel, now a DPS officer.
He remembers playing on the LaForge team that played against Tastee Freeze, State Farm and Storms Chevron.
“Some of my teammates were David Teeples and Wyley Greer,” he said. “We went to a couple of all-star tournaments.”
Tony, and his brother Greg Williams, were coached throughout their careers by their father, Ronnie, who was then a county sheriff, but went on to become Payson’s Justice of the Peace.
“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.”
If we fast-forward to today, it becomes obvious the Little League program has flourished under the leadership of Craig McMullen, Eddie Duran, Chuck Barton and Slade Gibson. With more tradition and experience buoying the program, local all-star teams have begun to enjoy more success in postseason area, district and state tournaments.
Among the most accomplished of all the celestial squads was the 2006 9- to 10-year-old team coached by McMullen that ran undefeated through area and district tournaments to advance to the state tournament along with 13 of Arizona’s finest teams.
There the team compiled a 4-2 record and finished fifth which represents the best showing in Payson Little League history.
The members of that team are today sophomores and juniors at Payson High and some will most likely be varsity starters this prep season.
Another of Payson’s most accomplished teams was the 2003 all-star team that won area and district tournaments to advance to state. There, the team — led by Ridge Halenar, Tyler Savage, Cody York, Hunter Haynes, Dakota Marshall and coached by Bob Halenar — won its first two games before Paradise Valley stung Payson 15-1.
The team — which drew the nickname “Cardiac Kids” for their incredible comebacks throughout the season — eventually finished 3-3 in the tournament. The team is remembered today as one that was a proving ground for many athletes who went on to star at Payson High School and lead the Longhorns to the 2008 state football title.
Payson program adds softball
In 2008, fast pitch softball was added mostly because concerned officials and parents, including local school teacher Allison Randall, believed the program would better prepare girls for high school competition, which is fast pitch.
Previously the only option girls had was to play slow pitch in town-sponsored leagues.
The first Little League softball game was played in Payson in the spring of 2008 prompting officials and coaches to hail its arrival.
“It’s finally here, we have a start and it’s exciting,” said Felicia Moore, then an assistant coach on the Payson Thunder.
Randall also breathed of sigh of relief with the program saying it was new and thrilling.
Just as the baseball program struggled in the postseason during its infancy, so did Payson’s fast pitch teams.
But in 2009, the local softball teams enjoyed a huge dose of success when 13- to 14-year-old All-Stars finished third in the district tournament losing 10-4 to Winslow in a semifinal game.
In the postseason tournament, which was played in Pinetop-Lakeside, Payson finished third overall, losing 10-4 to Winslow in a semifinal shoot-out.
Earlier in the District fray, Payson took a forfeit win from Show Low and then defeated Blue Ridge 17-12. In that win, Payson was without the services of No. 1 pitcher Devann Runzo, who was ill. This season, Runzo will most likely be the Lady Horns’ ace hurler.
On that star team of three years ago were several other players, including Summer Kelley, Megan Wessel, Kaitlytn Wessel and Emma Randall, who will probably be varsity stalwarts this season
Because Payson now has a well-established Fast Pitch Little League program, officials and coaches are predicting local teams will enjoy even more all-star success this season and for years to come.
While the current board of 11 officers has set the stage for a successful 2012 campaign, there is more work to be done.
“We are always looking for more volunteers,” Parker said. “There is a lot of need for help with fund-raisers, opening day and uniforms.” To volunteer, log on to the Payson Little League Web site at: http://www.eteamz .com/paysonlittleleague.