American Legion baseball is taking a dramatic step, hoping to vastly improve its program in particular and Spokane baseball in general.
Legion officials have decided to add a third division at the top by combining schools, which have traditionally each fielded their own Senior Legion team.
“We wanted to change the presentation of our program,” Division 5 senior commissioner Dale Anderson said. “We wanted more competitive baseball.”
The new division has been designated Triple A for players 18-and-under, with bordering schools combining to form teams. Many of the players are expected to be recently graduated high school seniors. They will play other Senior Legion programs with an eventual goal of making the American Legion World Series.
The boarding schools cannot have a total of more than 4,000 students in grades 10-12.
The current Senior Legion, where each school has a team, will be designated Double A. It will also be an 18-and-under league with teams generally made up with the high school varsity players who don’t play Triple A. They will play other Junior Legion programs, battle for a berth in the state tournament, which will be held in Spokane next summer, with a final goal of the western regional tournament.
Many of the smaller schools to the north such as Colville, Deer Park, Chewelah and Lakeside will most likely be involved at this level.
The Single A level is for players 14- and 15-years old.
Some Greater Spokane League coaches initially resisted the change because they run their own summer league programs and because they are concerned with the Single A program.
“Once we get through a season, I think we’ll find this is beneficial for GSL baseball,” Anderson said. “Double A and Single A are the same as last year. We’ve just created a top league, a new league. We need a flagship … that is the kids’ goal. We want to build a stronger and stronger program. We’re doing a service to the kids who want to play.”
Legion officials are looking for sponsors at all levels.
The Triple A clubs will initially cost sponsors $10,000 because equipment and uniforms are needed for the new programs and players at about $100 apiece. Coaches will be paid and besides 28 league games, Anderson is hoping teams can get games with other programs to get the schedule to at least 40 games and maybe 60.
Officials hope to develop booster clubs to help with expenses so they can travel to tournaments. Parents meetings will begin in January.
Anderson said programs that have already heard about the planned changes have contacted Spokane regarding tournaments and home-and-home scheduling.
The coaches can be college assistants or others with vast baseball experience who know how to travel and handle players.
The sponsor cost for Double A is $900 and about $75 per player. Teams will play 22 league games.
Costs for the Single A teams are not completely settled because the number of teams is uncertain.
Anderson said his group is looking at a Feb. 1 deadline for sponsors to get this off the ground. Schedules, uniforms and equipment will take time to put together.
Interested coaches, sponsors and parents can contact the Legion office by mail at 8605 N. Division, Spokane, 99208, or telephone at (509) 468-8284.
At an earlier informational meeting which included baseball coaches from almost every high school in the area, Gonzaga University baseball coach Steve Hertz said, “If we’re courageous enough to look at change…this is going to be better for baseball. We have to change if development of top players is part of the equation. It forces the issue: love the game or don’t play it. The guys in this room have busted their tails but the structure is holding baseball back. You may have to change but that’s a small price to be successful.”
, DataTimes MEMO: Cut in Spokane edition. This sidebar appeared with the story: LEGION COMBINATION TEAMS Lewis and Clark, Gonzaga Prep, Cheney, small schools west North Central, Shadle Park, St. George’s Ferris, University, Freeman Central Valley, East Valley, West Valley Mead, Rogers Pullman, Clarkston