Little League - New Frontier
Baseball in the Outback continues to grow as Australia Charters Hundreds of Little League Teams for 2012
This article was printed in the annual Little League Magazine, March 2012. Courtesy of Little League International.
Baseball has been played down under for decades. But recently it’s Little League, not the pros, that has generated a buzz for thousands of Australian Children.
In a country that claims cricket and rugby as its most popular of sports, that Australian Baseball Federation (ABF), the governing body of baseball for the island continent, and Little League International have developed a structure of more than 50 chartered leagues throughout the country.
Mark Priestley is the National Teams and Championships Manager for the ABF. As the public face of the program, he oversees Little League operations through the country.
Priestley and adult volunteers have embraced the role that Little League can play in the lives of local children, and the response has resulted in more than 5000 players entering the Little League program.
“Australia may be the strongest market today for the growth of the game of baseball with the establishment of their professional league and the ABF’s efforts,” says Dan Velte, director of league development for Little League International.
Priestley is focused on education and marketing as the country’s Little League program explores the possibility of expanding its offerings to younger children and teenagers.
“I am promoting Little League against other sports like cricket, soccer and rugby,” he says, “which in Australia is a tough sell. We are creating promotional materials, which cater specifically to Australian Little Leaguers. We want the children to feel that Little League is their game.”
For the past several seasons, the Little League (Major division), which caters to children ages 9-12, has been the focus of Australian development. In Queensland, where Priestley lives, there are seven charter leagues, totaling more than 600 teams. The leagues play regular-season games, followed by postseason tournaments.
In light of the growth and popularity of Little League in Australia, the ABF has considered adding (Aussie T-Ball), as well as Minor and Teenage divisions, under the Little League banner.
“Baseball has been played in Australia for quite a while, so I am not surprised by the excitement,” Priestley says.
“Our volunteer base is good, and we are lucky to have that. The challenge comes with providing a process to educate the volunteers, but the educational resources that Little League has are incredible.”
Little League International’s development department has provided the clubs that operate the Australian programs with ways to encourage participation. Priestley says that, among other things, he is pushing for more professionally built fields dedicated solely to Little League. Although there are facilities available, the number of fields for young players is limited.
“The leagues are embracing the concept and are receptive,” he says. “Being with Little League has made it easier to draw in players because the kids are hyped to possibly make a trip to Williamsport for the Little League Baseball World Series.
“Playing in Little League stays with a child for a lifetime. It is my responsibility to show what a Little League brings to our country and how good a fit it is for Australia.”