Recession Means Big Problems for Little League

Parents there have "been out of work for, some of them up to a year, year and a half. It's not just one parent. Sometimes it's both parents in the household," said league president Greg Tredup. "The last thing you should do is cut out something for the kids so we're just accepting them."

Tredup is also struggling to get sponsors.

"They're telling us the same thing: They're having trouble with the economy," he said. "The car dealerships, banks, restaurants, that's how Little League survives."

That money is used to maintain the fields, buy uniforms (several coaches complained that the costs there have skyrocketed), buy baseballs and softballs and pay umpires. That still often leaves parents having to buy gloves and cleats.

Tredup said that several surrounding leagues are facing similar cash shortages. This year, his league ended up donating used helmets and other safety equipment to a league in Michigan, which is in a more dire situation.

Steve Keener, president and CEO of the national Little League organization, said that it is too early to tell if this is a national issue but said that as of now, enrollment numbers are in line with past years. He said so far this year there has been "nothing out of the ordinary."

Any Little League team affiliated with the national organization must allow a kid to play regardless of a family's ability to pay, he added.

"One thing that we have always taken some solace in is that even in a rough economy, parents and communities want to make sure their kids have an opportunity to do the things they enjoy," Keener said. "Many leagues and communities and families will make sacrifices in other areas just to make sure that the kids can continue to play Little League baseball."

"They may give up the family vacation before they tell their children they can't play Little League this season," he said.

Recession Brings Plenty of Suffering for Young Players

While the national organization has yet to experience the economic troubles, there are still plenty of individual Little League and youth baseball programs suffering.

In Southern California, the La Verne softball program has seen its registration numbers fall. A nearby league in Whittier cut its registration fee from $125 to $75.

And across the country, in Jersey City, N.J., the local Little League decided last month to eliminate its fee after numerous families decided they could no longer afford to participate.

Last year, the league had 500 players. After waiving the fee this year, all 700 spots were filled.

"Today, we have a waiting list," said Daniel Rivera, president of the Jersey City Roberto Clemente Little League.

Rivera said the decision to waive the fees came after he saw a lot of former players on the streets and asked them why they hadn't signed up for baseball this year.

"My parents don't have any money for the registration," was the response he kept getting.

"The struggles are there. With the recession comes a lot of depression," Rivera said. "It's real easy for these kids to get lost in the city. It's real easy."

The league is managing to stay afloat with some donations from individuals, some help from the city and through cost-cutting measures like buying cheaper uniforms.

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