DALLAS – Champions from 11 states will descend on the Back Mountain in early August for the 9-10-year-old Little League Softball East Regional Championships.
The Back Mountain Little League is the second straight Luzerne County site to serve as host to the championships, which are the highest level conducted by Little League for players of that age. Champions from each of 11 states will play in the Aug. 8-12 event, which was hosted by West Pittston in 2015.
“We were lucky enough to be asked,” Back Mountain Little League president Steve Skammer said. “Bob Bertoni, our district administrator, has done a great job. Last year, he had a banquet for all the teams at The Woodlands and took them to a RailRiders game.”
About 100 families are expected to travel to the area to follow the players from the 11 state championship teams.
“It’s just a great thing for the community for the Back Mountain to have this event,” Skammer said. “We’re really excited about it and hopefully it will be a little more business for the restaurants in the Back Mountain with 11 teams here for the whole week.
“We have a lot of fixing up to do for that and we’re getting ready.”
In addition to the main field where games will be played, the four upper fields give the visiting teams a chance to stay prepared between games.
“What’s nice about our complex is that we have batting cages and we have fields up top if they want to come and practice,” Skammer said.
With state championship teams in action, Skammer said the games could provide entertainment for those who like to follow youth sports.
“Nine- and 10-year-old girls; it’s a really good brand of softball,” Skammer said. “They throw strikes; they hit the ball; they catch the ball. It’s really exciting softball.”
The regional tournament will wrap up the summer for the Back Mountain Little League.
Action is already underway on the local level for Major League (10-12-year-old players).
The league held an Opening Ceremony for the first time in decades April 16 with every team participating in brief scrimmages and a ceremony to honor last summer’s state runner-up team. A sign was hung at the field with the names of the players from the team.
Minor League play, including T-ball and coach pitch, is getting started with the bulk of the teams playing their openers Saturday, May 7. That Opening Day will feature five games going at a time and a total of 27 games scheduled at the complex.
Skammer said the league’s membership has settled, holding steady between 700 and 740 players for the past half-dozen years.
“At one time, about 10 years ago, we peaked at about 1000, but since then soccer happened, lacrosse happened, travel sports happened,” Skammer said.
Having steady numbers helps the league plan from season to season without having to make major adjustments. While other leagues around the area have had to work together to have enough teams for games – District 31/32 went from having 32 leagues with Major all-star teams for tournament time down to 23 because of those mergers of resources and players – the Back Mountain Little League has held strong.
Of the 10 district finals conducted last year on various levels of baseball and softball, seven featured a Back Mountain team.
“We have eight Major League teams, so we need 96 players ages 10-12 each for baseball and softball,” Skammer said. “It’s nice to know how many players are coming up.
“It’s nice to have that pipeline every year be consistent. It has helped us maintain consistency, which you can see in our success at the Major League level.”
Skammer said about two-thirds of the Back Mountain players are in the lower level leagues from ages 5-10. At around age 9-10 seems to be the natural point where players and families decide their interest in whether to continue baseball and other sports.
While some other leagues around northeastern Pennsylvania have opened T-ball to 4-year-olds to add membership numbers, Skammer said the Back Mountain Little League has avoided that. He said he thinks 5 is a more appropriate age to be introduced to the game.