By Joyce Erekson
It’s the end of an era for Babe Ruth softball and the beginning of a new one with the formation of a citywide senior Little League softball program.
The Babe Ruth softball program, which has served girls ages 13 through 16 for many years, will cease to exist as of this spring after struggling to stay afloat in the face of steadily declining numbers. Last spring there were only 34 girls (three teams) and for the past few years there hasn’t been a U16 all-star team, according to Greater Lynn Babe Ruth vice president Jeff Earp.
The new junior/senior Little League softball program will be run out of Wyoma Little League with most of the home games played at the Lynn Woods field. The program will serve girls from throughout the city and Lynnfield, which is now included in Wyoma’s boundaries.
There will be an open softball meeting for anyone in either community interested in learning about the new program. It will be held Monday, Nov. 23, at 7:30 p.m. at the Gannon Golf Course clubhouse. People are invited to ask questions, voice any concerns they may have and offer ideas.
Wyoma Little League president Tony Luciano said discussions about starting a Little League program for 13-16 year olds began a little over a month ago. He said Wyoma approached Babe Ruth about it first.
“We’re all in it for the same reason. We’re in it for the kids,” he said. “We weren’t going to do it if they (Babe Ruth) weren’t on board. They listened to what we had to say. We talked about different options on how to get more girls (13-16) to play.”
Luciano said the big difference between Little League and Babe Ruth in this area (the North Shore) is that there are more Little Leagues offering senior programs than there are Babe Ruth programs for the same age group. There are five other leagues in the area (Salem, Swampscott, Marblehead, Peabody and Saugus) that have junior/senior programs. Combined they already have 12 teams, Luciano said.
Earp said there are only four or five Babe Ruth softball programs in all of Eastern Massachusetts including ones in Plymouth and Raynham. Revere has Babe Ruth, he said, but this year the league didn’t participate in all-stars.
Luciano said although the 13-16 years olds will all play together during the season, Wyoma sought charters for junior and senior league divisions in order to have separate U14 and U16 all-star teams.
Earp said the Babe Ruth board members have been trying to drum up interest in the softball program for years, but with little luck. He said former Babe Ruth president John Kasian managed a U16 Babe Ruth all-star team a couple of years ago that got invited to compete in the nationals and the hope was it would inspire some girls to play. That didn’t happen.
“Basically we’ve had to grab people by the hand to get them down there to play. There are just no numbers, anywhere. Not just in Lynn. It’s everywhere.,” Earp said.
Earp said Luciano and Chad Wilkins, who was also involved in presenting the plan, were tremendous.
“They knew it was going to be awful for Babe Ruth,” he said. “Once they explained it, that these girls were going to get to play these other cities and towns on a regular basis, it was a no brainer. Everyone just agreed.”
Grace Rogato Field, which has been the home of Babe Ruth softball since its inception, will still be used by the high schools and Fisher College. Last year, English High softball, which has always played its home games on the fields behind the school, used the Bowzer Complex field for a few home games. Earp said this year, English will join Classical and St. Mary’s in playing all its home games at Bowzer.
Both Earp and Luciano said there will probably be some junior/senior Little League games played at Breed, but that won’t be decided until after there is a schedule. Earp said although Babe Ruth would have loved to have the games Breed, it wasn’t feasible.
“They (Wyoma) are taking all the responsibility, with registrations, uniforms, all that stuff. It’s a lot of work,” Earp said. “They’ve got to do what they have to do to recoup some money, like concessions, that sort of stuff. Plus it’s just the ease of having the operation all in one place.”
Luciano said he can’t guarantee that Wyoma will draw more than 34 girls because no one knows how it will go. Those girls will, however, have more teams to play against, he said.
Earp said everyone at Babe Ruth was hurt by the loss of the softball program, but it was inevitable.
“If you’re going to think of the kids, there’s nothing to offer them,” said, adding that being able to play teams for the surrounding cities and towns will only make the Lynn girls better.
“They’ll be facing better competition and better pitching,” Earp said.
Luciano said he wants to make it clear that in running the program out of Wyoma, no girls in the city or for that matter Lynnfield, will be left out. He said they’ll be tryouts and a draft and volunteers from throughout the city will be encouraged to get involved.
“It’s not going to be the Wyoma girls on one team and the other Lynn girls on the other teams. That’s not how it’s going to go. It will be a Lynn league, its own entity, but it will be part of Wyoma,” Luciano said.
Greater Lynn Babe Ruth president Jim Beliveau was unavailable to comment on the end of the Babe Ruth program due to an illness in the family. His mother passed away Monday night.