FULTON, NY – A chilly opening day and a rainy first week hasn’t halted the kickoff of the 2017 Little League baseball and softball season in Fulton.
Players from all divisions gathered together last weekend to officially begin the season with help from league officials and the Syracuse Chiefs minor league baseball team mascot, Scooch.
Roughly 280 participants from 23 teams ranging in age from 4 to 12-years-old lined the first and third baselines of John Florek Field as Fulton Little League’s vice president, Dave Webber and president, John Florek introduced the 15th season of Little League in Fulton.
Scooch of the Syracuse Chiefs threw out the first pitch of the season and shared some opportunities that the Chiefs have planned for Little League participants including Little League Appreciation night on Saturday, June 3 of which all coaches and players receive free tickets and the first 2,000 kids in the stadium get a free replica Chiefs road jersey.
Florek spoke of the progress the league has made since it began in Fulton in 2002 with only old materials that were hardly usable.
With a vision, some perseverance, and the help of community donations, the league was able to update the Fulton Kiwanis Fields to their current condition with four fully fenced fields, updated back stops and dugouts, new signage and scoreboards, a reconstructed snack bar, a batting cage, and real infields as opposed to the former grass fields.
With pride in their home fields, the league also takes pride in being the lowest priced Little League program in all of District 8, offering each participant the chance to get the money they pay in sign-up fees back through the opportunity to sell raffle tickets.
Still, Florek said his greatest sense of pride comes from the inclusiveness of their program, following the mantra, “no child left behind.”
Fulton Little League offers fluidity within the regulations of Little League standards, allowing children to move throughout divisions based on their experience and level of comfort after following all appropriate channels of approval through Little League officials.
Following the same policy, they allow continuous enrollment into the program if a family missed the sign up deadline and still wishes to play.
The league serves roughly 280 players from ages 4-12 in the divisions of T-ball, A minors (coach pitch,) AA minors (kid pitch), and majors, as well as kids 13-16 in the juniors and seniors divisions for both baseball and softball.
The Little League opportunity became a possibility for Fulton youth in 2002 when Little League became the official youth baseball program in the city, taking over the former independent program Fulton Youth Baseball.
Having served as president since 2003, Florek was instrumental in making the change.
“There was just more opportunity for our kids with Little League,” Florek said, noting the popularity of the Little League World Series and the incredible success of Little League as an international youth sporting opportunity that serves more than 2.4 million children each year in more than 80 countries worldwide.
“Little League is one of the world’s largest youth sports organizations and I think the numbers really speak for themselves. It must be a good program to get that many participants involved,” Florek said.
Aside from players, the league boasts more than 1.5 million adult volunteers worldwide.
However, the Little League safety provisions are not lenient for volunteers, requiring background checks of each coach and adult volunteer in the program.
Safety is one of many crucial standards that must be strictly followed in Fulton, Florek said.
He contributes the program’s safety successes to league volunteer, Jodi Larkin who began overseeing the league’s safety program when her children were participants and continues today even though her children are no longer age eligible for Little League.
“Because of Jodi (Larkin’s) hard work behind the scenes administratively, our safety program won second place two separate times for the Eastern region, the highest placing any program in District 8 has received,” Florek said.
The mandatory safety program is far more extensive than background checks, however, requiring every section of the program to be regulated by safety standards including the snack bar, fencing, playing fields, bleachers, safety bases, dugout safety, and more.
Months of preparation go into all aspects of the program, beginning the first week of January and running through the regular season, playoffs, all stars and other tournaments through August, running through fall ball, and ending by November after using the remaining days before winter weather to do field improvements.
“It’s a big task, but I’m excited. It’s always good to get the season started. Baseball is known as America’s pastime and even though there was a time where people thought other sports may take over, it has remained,” Florek said.