Last June, Sparks Centennial President Steven Howe, and the rest of the SCLL board, established a new plan designated ‘2,017 by 2017’ aimed at strengthening the number of children playing baseball and softball in the Rail City.
“Last summer we started an initiative stating that by the spring of 2017 we wanted 2,017 kids playing either baseball or softball in the city of Sparks,” Howe said. “Last year in Centennial we had 550 kids. Now we’ve expanded to the juniors and seniors division, which are the 13-14 age group and the 15-16 age group. So that’s exciting.”
The addition of the juniors and seniors divisions, in which SCLL is hoping to add close to 300 players, now offers boys from the ages of 4-16 a chance to play the game of baseball. While the additional 300 would put Sparks Centennial at around 800 baseball players total, a far cry from the goal of 2,017, the league hopes to make the biggest expansion by coming together with Sparks Fastpitch Softball.
“The ‘2,017 by 2017’ vision started to come together late in November when Sparks Fastpitch started to have some problems. They came to Centennial because of the strength of our board and the strength of our league and volunteers and asked for help,” Howe said. “So now they’ve merged with us under the Little League umbrella.”
With the addition of Sparks Fastpitch, which had 275 players last season, Howe believes the combination of the newly added softball divisions, as well as the juniors and seniors divisions, to SCLL makes the objective of 2,017 an achievable mark.
“I’m glad to say when I took over as a board member in 2008, Centennial Little League had 375 kids playing baseball. In just four years, we’ve grown to 550 just by being more organized, communicating with the parents more actively and doing the things that are necessary to keep kids involved,” Howe said. “We vet and train our coaches in order to ensure that they offer a quality learning experience for the kids and the parents. That is something that keeps people coming back.
“So we started the grass roots of growing the league because I believe every little boy in America should be playing Little League baseball. It’s the way it was when my dad was a kid. It’s the way it was when I was a kid and it’s the way I want it for my children and their children. And now our choices are ages 4-16 for boys in east Sparks and 4-16 for girls in the entire city of Sparks. That’s an exciting thing to have. We want to breed a love and a passion for the sport until the kids and families are bought into the game of baseball and softball and by then they are baseball and softball people.”
On top of the added leagues, Sparks Centennial has also made other changes to improve the quality and competitiveness of its lower divisions. For children under 10 years old, SCLL has moved the pitching mounds up from 46 feet to 40 feet in an effort to yield more strikes and hits along with less walks in order to quicken the speed of the game. Improvements on the field are not the only aims of the 2017 idea though.
“I strongly believe that youth sports don’t just take from businesses. Part of our initiative is to really drive the point that it is a community based deal that would build the community up,” Howe said. “It will all trickle down. It will reverberate throughout the community whether it’s teams or families going out to a restaurant after games or buying new equipment for the season. City parks will be used and our kids will be healthier.”
Along with the immediate impact, Howe also believes the new SCLL initiative will benefit the youth of Sparks in the future as well.
“The thing that I’m anticipating the most is I see the high schools in Sparks competing for state titles in baseball and softball year in and year out because of the pool of children that will be coming to them with a good foundation in the sports,” he said. “A lot of kids haven’t been prepped for what they are going to be doing at the high school level. So pushing these kids to a higher level at a younger age and setting their standards a little bit higher is going to feed and make those communities at the high schools much stronger. That’s what I’m looking forward to. As we achieve our initiative of 2,017 I foresee Reed, Spanish Springs and Sparks all benefiting and we can help really drive that.”