Hundreds of kids ages 5 to 18 are signed up to play ball this summer at the Huntertown and LaOtto ballparks. The regular season is scheduled to start on May 16. As the season approaches, the Huntertown Lions Club needs many volunteers to help with games. They also need money for capital improvements in both stadiums.
Huntertown Lions Baseball and Softball League President and Huntertown Lions Club Vice President Ryan Holt said 880 kids signed up for T-ball, softball or baseball this year.
“They make up the 73 teams that play from May to July. I have 166 coaches teaching kids the basics of the ball game,” Holt said.
Because so many children have signed up, the HLC needs more volunteers. During the seven-week season, games are scheduled five nights a week. Operation of the concession stand requires four people during each game.
“I still have 70 volunteer time slots to fill at the concession alone. I also need five administrative volunteers,” Holt said.
Volunteer administrators ensure that the needs of players and spectators are met. This includes coordinating player photos, ordering awards and managing bleacher repairs, he said.
In addition to coordinating games, the HLC maintains seven ballpark fields. Five Diamonds can be found in Huntertown on State Road 3 and Gump Road. Two other ball diamonds are at 500 S. Tamarack St. in LaOtto.
“We provide the service, run it and facilitate it during the summer. Northwest Allen County Schools provide the land in Huntertown,” Holt said.
However, Huntertown ball diamonds cannot meet the demand of all children who want to play. So, a few years ago, the HLC searched for additional diamonds.
“We overshot the field in Huntertown due to growth in northwest Fort Wayne. To serve more children, we have worked with the LaOtto Park Association to provide additional diamonds,” said Holt. “Last year was the first year we really used LaOtto ball diamonds due to the pandemic.”
Facility maintenance includes everything from mowing grass to drainage and diamond grading and building maintenance.
“We maintain all structures related to the management of the baseball and softball league, including restrooms, equipment sheds, concession stands and diamond facilities. We take care of the scoring shed, the scoreboards and the batting cages,” Holt said.
The HLC employs students to help with some maintenance tasks.
“They mow and do some basic maintenance, like cleaning the bathrooms. Other tasks like scraping the diamonds to keep them level or adding more dirt to make them drip properly require a more skilled hand and bigger equipment,” Holt said. “The problem is that we have nowhere to store this equipment, so we borrow it wherever we can or rent it. Having people available to operate this equipment is also a challenge.
Maintaining multiple ball diamonds, renting equipment, and paying staff comes at a cost.
“The simple upkeep that includes mowing, plus raking and draining rainwater from the diamonds costs about $25,000 per season,” Holt said.
Major maintenance and servicing costs even more. Broken or missing fences, non-functioning scoreboards, and safety nets that are too low, especially in a residential neighborhood in LaOtto, are issues facing the HLC.
According to Holt, current concerns include:
Two scoreboards in LaOtto are outdated and need to be replaced
The fences begin to bend and rust, the fences deteriorate
Residential fencing in LaOtto should be replaced with commercial grade fencing
Some diamonds are only partially fenced
A higher toe extension with a new overhang is needed at LaOtto
Major retouching on the diamonds is needed for better drainage
Diamond leveling requires extra dirt
“The problem is that we don’t have the funds to do what we want to do. Frankly, what we need are volunteers to go out and find some capital funding,” Holt said. “That’s the biggest thing we need. We need donations, grants, or sponsorship dollars to go out there and do what needs to be done to keep those diamonds up to par.
Reworking only diamonds without proper equipment is a challenge.
“We don’t have a proper utility vehicle or field conditioner to keep the fields smooth. A combination of field conditioner and fine drag to smooth the diamond costs around $6,000,” Holt said. “We also need a vehicle to pull the drag. Typically, a 25 horsepower vehicle is needed. Our current vehicle is rated at 11 or 12 horsepower. The vehicle we need costs between $10,000 and $12,000.
Similarly, installing commercial-grade chain-link fencing is expensive.
“Making a single diamond in LaOtto costs around $40,000,” Holt said.
Ultimately, improving ball diamonds and related facilities requires more manpower and more money.
“We are a 100% voluntary association. We share a lot of great ideas, but we need people and funds to make them happen,” Holt said. “Even if we have the funds to make it happen, if we don’t have someone in place to make it happen, it won’t happen.”
Current projects include replacing batting cages in Huntertown and installing a concession stand in LaOtto. The batting cages and concession stand were both donated by Carroll High School as they are no longer needed.