By John Monaco
Spirited by a group of civic-minded area residents, headed by Harry Wood, Vic Aldridge, Bill Abrams, Jim Owens, Kent Browning, Ray Ramsey, and Frank Walston, Little League Baseball was first introduced to the youth of Springfield in 1954, although it was not a franchised Little League organization at that time. Four teams consisting of 60 boys were organized and transported to Annandale to play in that league in 1954. Initial equipment was obtained from the then small number of community merchants and from the fathers themselves.
Franchised Little League came to Springfield a year later in 1955 with the granting of a charter to the local group by the National Little League Headquarters in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The league’s first president was Kent Browning. More than 150 boys were registered to play that year. The area franchised included all of what is now considered Springfield proper.
The popularity of the program, along with the area population, grew by leaps and bounds until it became necessary in 1962 to split up the groups, thus giving birth to the North Springfield Little League which received a franchise and became a separate league.
The program in the central part of Springfield continued to expand in numbers into the middle 1960’s, with 16 Major League teams and 24 Minor League teams. In 1971, following a tremendous population explosion in the West Springfield area, and the growth of the league to more than 1,150 players, it was necessary to once again split the league. The West Springfield Little League (WSLL) began its first season as an independent league in 1972 with over 600 players, leaving 475 players in what is now the Central Springfield Little League.
After development of the WSLL fields at Accotink, the first season had over 600 participants. Charlie Clark, the first WSLL president, the first WSLL Board of Directors, and the support of the first of the Parents Auxiliary under President Dannie Loi can be credited for laying the foundation for what has become one of the best Little Leagues in Virginia.
In 1974, the Board established two major leagues instead of one and authorized the players to select the all star teams. That same year in the District 9 all star finals West American defeated West National 5-3. That league structure remained until 1977, when we only chartered one Major League due to a reduction in the number of players.
In 1979, the Accotink fields were purchased by the county and dedicated to the exclusive use of WSLL and the Springfield Youth Club.
During the 1988 season, PEPSI donated the league’s first electronic scoreboard thanks to the efforts of Auxiliary President L.V. Clovis. Also that year a press box building was constructed. Mr. Skip Shankle, a WSLL board member at the time and owner of Virginia Clay Products, generously donated the cinder block for the building, making its construction possible.
The league continued to grow over the years and in 1991 the league was divided into the American and National leagues when nearly 1,200 boys and girls played in the two leagues.
In 1993, under the direction of Pat McCormick and Eddie Garretson, WSLL and Central Springfield Little League jointly fielded our first Challenger baseball team for children with physical and mental disabilities. At that time we had only 9 ball players. Since then we have grown to over 250 players and have been recognized by Little League Baseball as having the largest Challenger Baseball program in the world. In 2001, Springfield Challenger played T-ball at the White House in front of President George Bush. Also that year, Eddie Garretson was awarded the Little League Challenger Volunteer of the Year Award at the Little League World Series in Williamsport. Congratulations Eddie!!!
Springfield Challenger was honored again on August 29, 2009 when they were invited to play at 2009 Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA before the U.S. Little League and International Little League Championship Games. They played a team from Lackawanna Little League in Scranton, PA. In 2010, Springfield Challenger was a news story on Good Morning America television program.
In 1995, realizing the need to accommodate a very large program, WSLL undertook its largest single season expenditure to date by adding lights to Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium, and began playing night games.
In 1996, we celebrated our 25th anniversary with over 1,200 ball players representing 97 teams. That same year we started the “volunteer of the year” program and honored Tony Musco with over 48 years of Little League Service.
Prior to the 1998 season, local merchant Ron Devine, in conjunction with Coca Cola, donated new electronic scoreboards on both Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium. That same year WSLL hosted the 9/10-year old District 9 Tournament.
In the winter of 1998-99, in preparation to host the 1999 9/10-year-old State All Star Tournament, WSLL and Fairfax County undertook a major renovation of the Byron Avenue complex including field and backstop replacement, new fencing, and provisions for additional parking in the area behind Forbes and Three Rivers stadiums. That same year we introduced our web site (www.wsllbaseball.org) and since then have had nearly over 1 million visitors.
In the spring of 2000, WSLL participated in a “matching funds” program with Fairfax County and together built a new ball field at the old Burke Elementary School site. The development of Fenway Park at Burke School has occurred through the combined efforts of a number of groups and individuals who foresaw the possibility for a new field at the school five years ago, acted upon that idea, and made real that possibility. Their foresight, and the dedication of the individuals who oversaw and performed many of the improvements at the field, has resulted in a youth baseball field that will be enjoyed by the youth of the Burke, Springfield, and Fairfax Station for many years to come. Read detailed history of Fenway Park.
After more than 30 years of sharing Byron Avenue Park with the Springfield Youth Club football program, an historic event took place in 2009 - West Springfield Little League received notice that it would have year-round use of the complex. This announcement came after five years of work and negotiations with Fairfax County. We owe Keith Klindworth a huge thank-you for the countless number of hours he worked on this. Thanks also to Steve Gillingham, past President of WSLL, and Eddie Garretson, President of Springfield Challenger, who both have been a source of support and encouragement in this long process to gain year round access to the Byron Avenue fields. By the way, the SYC football program began play that fall at a new synthetic turf field that has just been completed at Lee High School (not too bad).
With the year-round use at Byron, the league, in cooperation with Fairfax County, undertook another major innovation of Yankee Stadium prior to the 2010 season. Improvements included relocating home plate, professional re-grading of the infield, new backstops, and more. The renovation efforts with the county continued for the 2011 season. Wrigley field was completely overhauled as once again improvements included relocating home plate, professional re-grading of the infield, new backstops, and moving the fences back to 210 feet and configuring the field for travel baseball teams to play at Byron.
Editor’s note: Prior to acquiring the fields year-round at the end of each season we had to dismantle the baseball fields, including taking down of all fences and then in the spring convert the fields from a football facility into baseball fields. This included reinstalling fences, building pitching mounds, reforming infields, and repairing/reseeding outfields from football wear and tear. Not only was this a large expense but also required hundreds of volunteer man-hours.
The Byron Avenue complex sits on the shores of Accotink Creek. The creek has played an unfriendly role in the history of WSLL. In June 1972, Hurricane Agnes caused extensive damage to our facilities as the water level rose to four feet inside the concession stand. The community rallied to support WSLL as hundreds of volunteers assisted to repair the flood damage. The 1989 season was a season of irony. WSLL installed an underground sprinkler system in a cooperative agreement with the Springfield Youth Club. Before the system was needed, flash flooding caused Accotink Creek to rise and overflow its banks. Water levels reached eight feet on Three Rivers Stadium and nearly three feet in the concession stand. Damage was extensive to the concession stand inventory. Fences, bleachers and infield dirt were washed away. A tremendous outpouring of unsolicited volunteers working long hours put the devastated fields back together in a single weekend to save the season for the youngsters. The creek rose again on June 26, 2006 at the time WSLL was hosting the District 9 Tournament. There were thoughts of moving the tournament to another site but thanks to a huge turnout of volunteers the fields were recovered and only opening round games had to be played at neighboring Central Springfield. Two years later on May 13, 2008 the creek rose one more time as a result of Hurricane Hanna causing the cancellation of many games but once again the impact was minimal as over 800 volunteers restored the fields where the creek rose to the top of the roofs of the Wrigley field dugouts. Not only has Accotink Creek affected our season but weather has also. In the spring of 2003, rain was always in the weather forecast. That year nearly 50% of the games were rained out. Almost all of these games were rescheduled and played, thanks to the dedication of many volunteers that sacrificed almost all Sunday activities. Opening Day April 7, 2007 was cancelled due to SNOW and we all remember the great snow of 2010. That snow caused a 2-week delay in the 2010 season. Most recently on September 9, 2011 (on the eve of the Fall Baseball season) Tropical Storm Lee invaded Byron Park when the creek rose and left the fields under 10 feet of water that reached the top of the Wrigley field dugouts and was 6 feet high in the concession stand. The entire contents of the concession stand, including freezers, refrigerators, and grills were damaged and will need to be replaced. All infield dirt was washed away and fencing and dugouts on 4 fields were destroyed. Together with the help of our friends at Fairfax County (who replaced the damaged perimeter fencing and dugouts and all of the infield dirt) and many volunteers, the fields were ready for play on opening day in 2012 when WSLL celebrated 40 years of Little League baseball.
The WSLL All-Star teams have played an important part in the history of our league. Before WSLL split into American and National Leagues in 1991, we captured the District 9 11/12-year old championship in 1974, 1977, 1983, 1984, 1986, and 1987. The 1984 All-Star team, managed by Bob Barthle, became the first WSLL team ever to advance to the Southern Region Tournament, in St. Petersburg Florida. That team defeated North Carolina in the opening round before being defeated by Tennessee in the second round. The games were broadcast over WEEL radio, marking the first broadcast of a WSLL baseball game.
In 1986 we returned to the Southern Region Tournament, managed by Charlie Phillips, and were defeated by Louisiana 1-0.
In 1999 and 2002 West National won the 11/12-year old District 9 title after 11 years without a WSLL team capturing a District 9 title. The 2002 West National team finished 2nd in the Virginia State Tournament. The following year, in 2003, the West American 11/12-year old All-Star team (managed by Jerry Park) won the District 9 championship, the Virginia State championship, and was finally eliminated in the semi-finals of the Southern Regional Tournament by a team from Buckhead, Georgia 7-3. This was the farthest any WSLL team had ever advanced in tournament play. In 2004, the West National team won the District 9 championship and finished 2nd in the Virginia State Tournament. In 2005 the West American 11/12-year old team (managed by Gary Engle) won the District 9 championship, the Virginia State championship and was eliminated in pool play competition in the Southern Regional Tournament. However, this team defeated a team from Florida that eventually won the Regional championship and advanced to Williamsport to play in the World Series. In 2007 West National 11/12 team won the District 9 championship and finished 2nd in the State and in 2009 the West National 11/12 team again won the District 9 title. In 2009, 2010 and 2011 West American 11/12 team captured the District 9 crown.
In 1997 Little League introduced the 9/10 All Star Tournament. WSLL began participation in 1999 and the West National 9/10-year old team won District 9 championships in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2009. The 2000 and 2003 teams finished 2nd in the Virginia State Tournament. The West American 9/10 team won the District 9 championship in 2006, 2007, and 2011. In 2012 the West American 9/10 not only won the District Championship, but finished second in the Virginia State Tournament.
In 2004 Little League started the 1st tournament for 11-year olds. (This was subsequently changed to 10/11 in 2006.) The West National 11-year old team (managed by Mike Fountain) captured the 1st ever Virginia State championship. In 2006 and 2010 the West National 10/11 team won the District 9 championship. In 2007 the American 10/11 team won District 9 Championship and the Virginia State Championship. In 2008, the West American 10/11 team won the District 9 title and finished 2nd in the state. The West American 10/11 team won the District 9 Championship in 2009. The 2012 team (managed by Greg McIntyre) won the District Championship, and the Virginia State Championship winning 14 games in a row. They were eliminated in the semi-finals of the Southeast Region Tournament, losing to Florida 8-6 in 8 innings.
Of special note: WSLL All-Star teams have won all 3 District titles in 2007 and 2009. No other league in District 9 has won all three titles in a single year.
As you have read, WSLL started with support and dedication of a handful of individuals and has grown into one of the largest and best-organized sports programs in the area. We can all be proud of this organization and our association with it. It is still entirely a volunteer organization and it is still run by individuals who believe in the youth of our community. There are many that have worked long and hard for the WSLL without publicity or “thanks.” These are dedicated people who seek no reward other than to help young people play baseball and grow mentally and physically. Perhaps that is their reward, to see a child make a first catch or get their first base hit. As you turn the pages of this yearbook, please take time to silently thank those who through the years helped to make it all possible.So to the managers, coaches, umpires, parents’ auxiliary, team parents, board members, parents, and fans.... THANKS. And thanks also to the players, for without them, there would be no WSLL! If you ever doubt the reason for the existence of organized sports, just look around and you will no doubt see why a handful of people in 1972, led by Charlie Clark, thought the effort would be worthwhile.
WSLL Volunteer(s) of the Year
Evening: Clear. Low 67F. Winds N at 10 to 15 mph. 87
Evening: Clear. Low 53F. Winds NNW at 10 to 20 mph. 77
Evening: Mainly clear early, then a few clouds later on. Low 53F. Winds light and variable. 73
Virginia State Champions
10/11: 2004, 2007, 2012
11/12: 1984, 1986, 2003, 2005