As Rick Wilson sat on a bench along 2nd Street next to Angleberger Field in Baker Park, he said there’s a joke many Little League coaches use to describe the field.

“Don’t spit on the field, or it will flood,” Wilson said.

Angleberger Field is constantly saturated with water, notably in left field. It’s one of the many issues Frederick American Little League has faced in recent years, Wilson said.

Wilson is president of Frederick American Little League, a league that has seen participation decline since he started coaching in 1998. Back then, he said the league had more than 200 kids playing. Now, that number fluctuates between 100 and 120.

The league also hasn’t had a home field to play on since last May, when heavy flooding hit the city of Frederick. Angleberger Field has been unusable since then, Wilson said.

Despite those hardships, Wilson, who has been president of the league for 16 or 17 years, remains committed to running games, fundraising and field upkeep. He said making a difference in kids’ lives stems back to when he played baseball at the Naval Academy from 1981-83, for Coach Joe Duff.

“I remember him on the bus rides, just having conversations and he would be like, when you guys get done, you have to remember these experiences and give back to the kids,” Wilson said. “So when you get done playing, that’s when it’s time for you to get back in, teach the kids what you’ve learned.”

A particular challenge the league is facing is that many households within its boundaries appear to fall under the Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) threshold. Those households often struggle to pay for basic needs, like housing, food and transportation.

Ken Oldham, president and CEO of the United Way of Frederick County, created some rough maps of both the league boundaries and ALICE families in Frederick.

The league includes U.S. 40, Hillcrest, Key Parkway and other neighborhoods on the western side of the city, and along the Golden Mile. Much of the central part of the region contains upwards of 50 or 60 percent of households below the ALICE line, according to United Way data.

Oldham said transportation — parents getting kids to and from practice — is particularly difficult in ALICE communities.

Youth sports are also critical for kids’ overall well-being, Oldham said. But without a home field to play on, that can be difficult.

“I think it’s particularly sad that a community of the city that is already struggling, and struggling in the ability to afford a basic cost of living also doesn’t have a field to play on,” Oldham said.

Local dealership pitches in

Despite all the challenges at Angleberger, Frederick American Little League will soon be getting some help from Shockley Honda and Little League’s national partners.

Kara Murray, marketing director at Shockley Honda, said American Honda is working with Shockley to give a $30,000 grant to Wilson and Frederick American, in order to restore the field at Braddock Heights Community Center.

That work will occur sometime between June 8-16, part of the Honda Week of Service Initiative, Murray said.

“We’re very excited it’s hitting real close to home,” Murray said. “I’m sure everyone will be excited to have a nice clean new field they can take pride in.”

American Honda, in a prepared statement, said it has been working with Little League partners and was happy to offer the assistance.

“Given the severity of the flooding problem and that it has happened to them on prior occasions, we at Honda felt like there was an urgent need to help get this league back on its feet as quickly as possible,” the statement read. “Honda is honored to be a part of helping to get them up and running again.”

Wilson said Angleberger has been the league’s home field since about the 1950s, but the improvements to the Braddock Heights field are key.

“We’ve been here forever. This is our home field,” Wilson said while overlooking Angleberger. “But having Braddock as a backup is huge.”

Why has participation been down?

When it comes to the league’s decline in recent years, Wilson believes one reason may be driving the issue: cost.

Currently, the league fee is $125, Wilson said. Tee-ball, for kids 4 to 7 years old, is free, he added.

Wilson said parents can work with the league to lower that cost, essentially making it a “pay what you can afford” model.

“We will find a way, we’ll fundraise, we’ll do what we have to do to get these kids to play,” Wilson said.

He added, however, that there’s a fine line between helping people and being able to pay the league’s bills.

“The problem is ... if you advertise that, everybody can’t pay, and then they’ll pull up in their Escalade,” Wilson said. “But we have some kids that are legit hardship kids, and we want them to play.”

Oldham said the decline in Frederick American Little League is not unique, as participation has dropped for youth baseball nationwide in recent years.

The Aspen Institute: Project Play is an organization that tracks youth sports participation nationwide in its annual “State of Play” report.

According to Aspen’s data, 16.5 percent of 6- to 12-year-old kids played baseball “on a regular basis.” By 2017, that number dropped to 13.1 precent.

Oldham said the rise of travel teams, and families being unable to afford to pay.

For Frederick American, that ties back to the ALICE data, he said.

“Whether or not there’s a direct correlation would take research, but we anticipate a lot of it has to do with the high level of ALICE levels in our draw area,” Oldham said. “There are probably a lot of socioeconomic issues at play here.”

Looking ahead

Despite all the challenges with Angleberger, Wilson said he wants people to know the league is still playing. Much of his days are currently spent shuffling games between different fields citywide.

Donna Linton, who has lived in Frederick for about 25 years, has three grandsons who play in the league: Evan Wolfe, 11, Justyce Palmer, 10, and Alija Cartnail, 8.

“It’s very important to me, it gives them something to look forward to,” Linton said.

The three have gone through hardships in life, as Linton said she gained custody of all of them in 2015. She signed them up for Little League in March 2016, and they’ve been playing since.

“We would do it every day if they could,” she said.

Wilson said that right before Christmas, Evan sent him a Facebook message which essentially said he didn’t know what he would be doing, if it weren’t for him and Angleberger Field.

“When he sent me that message, I said, ‘All right, I’m good for another 20 years,’” he said. “We want those kids to play. It could be the only positive thing they have going for them, going on in their life.”

Follow Steve Bohnel on

Twitter: @Steve_Bohnel

Steve Bohnel is the county government reporter for the Frederick News-Post. He can be reached at sbohnel@newspost.com. He graduated from Temple University, with a journalism degree in May 2017, and is a die-hard Everton F.C. fan.

(17) comments

Turf Manager

The District 2 Administration needs to have East Frederick, National, and AMERICAN drop their charter and combine to form Frederick LL so they can be competitive with the other local leagues. The won’t though because they like to attend the Disctict Administration meetings and brag about how many charters they have in their District. Never mind they aren’t competitive and declining. The teams within D2 need to play each other and stop playing in-house all the time. It’s not fun. Money is a challenge for a few but plenty of kids are playing travel sports. The truth is the product being put on the field is horrible. Kids aren’t learning basic fundamentals. Coaches skirt LL rules on drafting players so they stack one team making it a miserable experience for all the kids involved. Coaches play favorites and only play the kids they like best and if your not one of them you only get the playing time that is mandated by LL rules. It been that way for ever and hasn’t changed. I see comments that Baseball is in decline. There are more travel baseball teams than ever before with parents paying between $800-$3000 per season and that doesn’t include travel expenses. Perfect Game is looking to build a $800 million dollar facility in Texas. TV deals with NCAA and LL are strong. It’s not declining. If you put a competitive product on the field where kids are learning fundamentals, they learn to love the game, and feel competitive they will play and come back each year. The sad part is this is the feeder programs for Legion and the area HS and look how they are doing. Time for major changes with baseball in the City of Frederick.

fredneck

Turf, generally I like your comments but no matter how much you teach fundamentals there is one adult who sucks in other adults to believe they are not getting fundamentals. These are the ones who drag 3-5 kids away each year making the local little leagues less competitive. It’s a vicious cycle. I’ve seen travel ball managers stand on the hill and cherry pick the best kids from the city all star teams. You can’t be competitive when adults make dumb uneducated emotional decisions for their kids. Before you jump to a travel team get a resume of that coach. Did he play college? Did he play minors or majors? Did you do research on the coach and be sure he did what he said he did. Or is he just a disgruntled dad that thinks he knows best? I teach fundamental baseball all the time and if my kids weren’t sucked away every year, cause they are fundamentally sound, how competitive my teams would be....

jjeeffff

[thumbup]

MrSniper

Hey, I have an idea...let’s give tax breaks to the rich! It’s always worked before. Just think, by the time the benefits trickle down to regular people...we’ll get, a trickle.

phydeaux994

We have two Grandsons, twenty months apart in age, who went through the Little League Program in McLean VA, starting with T-ball, mostly on the same team. They not only became pretty good baseball players but they made many friends, even among opposing teams. They both now play together on their High School team, a Junior and a Freshman, still against friends on opposing High School teams. A great Program, very successful in NoVa. Thurmont has had some very successful teams in the recent past, so they must have a pretty strong Program. I hope Mr. Wilson is successful in rebuilding the Frederick Little League.

trueyankfan95

I coached in Thurmont from the time my son played t-ball until he got drafted into the Majors. I taught fundamentals and got dirty with the players. If I can't show you how to play, how can I expect you to play? Our LL program isn't as strong as it was because too many parents are moving their kids to higher levels (Minors and Majors) before they are ready. Up until last year, there wasn't much of a chance that a 10 yr old would make Majors...this year there are 9 yr olds so that TLL could field 4 teams. Some still don't have the basic fundamentals and don't get much playing time. My son has now aged out of TLL and plays Thurmont Babe Ruth. We also formed a new travel baseball team to give the 13U players the opportunity to experience travel ball. We see many of the same kids that we faced over the last several seasons. Baseball is awesome and I'm glad that my son enjoys the game. The best part is that many of his best friends also play and are on the same team.

Kevaav

City Youth Matrix connects Frederick youth to programs just like this. We do not relegate our services to only baseball though. We connect youth to any athletic, art, music, vocational, etc. after-school programs. We remove barriers such as transportation and registration and equipment costs. Please visit www.cityyouthmatrix.com for more information or email me at aaron@cityyouthmatrix.com .

Waltsun

No mention of soccer, lacrosse, swimming or the many other sports that younger kids are tied up with these days. Other than swim teams, these other sports basically didn’t exist for young kids in Frederick years ago. Plus, the overall interest in baseball has been dropping in recent decades. Mostly due to its slow pace of play. I’m sure it can be boring for kids that are more used to other “action” oriented sports. It is a shame though that Angleberger field is in such bad shape. It’s great that Shockley and Honda are helping to fix up the Braddock field.

mikec

Agree that overall interest in baseball is in decline. Just look at MLB attendance. I like baseball, but the overall paceo play has gotten worse- far too many specialist pitchers,.

phydeaux994

That is why I have enjoyed many years watching my Grandsons progress through Little League and older youth leagues and now High School baseball. It’s more like going to MLB games when I watched the Senators play, when the same players were on the same teams for years who were our idols (Mickey Vernon was mine) and the pitchers pitched nine innings. I went to some Orioles games when the Senators left but it wasn’t the same. I’ve never been to a Nationals game and have no desire to do so. I have plenty of good baseball to watch!

ddegrangejr

All little leagues in this area are in decline and none of the presidents of any of these leagues want to give up power or financial decisions for the league. Why can we not combine, American/East Frederick/Frederick National and have a league that actually has other teams to play. By far Frederick National has the best program and upkeep with fields, why can these leagues not all combine under them? Everyone knows that Angleberger Field was made on a flood plain. With the weather in the recent years, why keep putting the money in that field to have it literally keep getting washed away? As for finances, I came from a league that did a Black Friday special where if you signed up before Thanksgiving, you joined for half price. Sometimes you need to forget about money and worry about numbers.

jjeeffff

Unfortunately money cannot be forgotten about. The biggest financial hit any of these leagues incur is insurance. I ws closely involved in youth baseball and football in the late 90s and early 2000s, the cost of insurance was an eye opener. I can only imagine the cost now. Since insurance is a requirement by the county and city to for leagues to use their fields, you cannot use the fields without it. And most of the umpires/officials in these sports are paid around $75 per game.You can get sponsorships for supplies and uniforms, but the cash needed for some of the other expenses can be hard to generate without fees. It is a sad fact.

Turf Manager

There is no fee charged by umpires LL requires everyone to be a volunteer.

jjeeffff

While the article is about LL baseball, I was speaking to youth sports in general baseball and football were the two I referenced. I do know that the umpires at the LL World Series are volunteer, I'm not so sure the local umpires work for free. I know for a fact that football and lacrosse refs are paid per game. I worked with PONY baseball in the area and we had paid umpires both here in Frederick and in Carroll. While many communities have used volunteer umpires at various times in youth baseball, it became increasingly difficult to get volunteers to do this "thankless" job. If there is someone who is currently directly involved with today's local LL I invite them to speak up.
Here is a link that sheds some light on it: http://archive.littleleague.org/learn/newsletters/Fairball_Newsletter/fb2008/fbsept08/VolunteervsPaid.htm

fredneck

Turf,
That is not the case in all our D2 local little leagues. It’s encouraged but not always followed.

sevenstones1000

How many girls currently in Little League?

ddegrangejr

We have 4 teams, that is 48 kids and I believe I have seen 4 girls.

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