New youth baseball league blooms in West Ocala, Florida
With crowded bleachers, jubilant families, excited players, hot dogs, boiled peanuts and certainly no crying, the new War Memorial Auditorium (WMA) Youth Baseball The league held its first-ever home game on March 28.
The first home opener was played at Pinckney Woodbury Field in northwest Ocala, part of the City of Ocala’s Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Complex.
Six-year-old LeBron Alex swung a bat while waiting with his mother for his turn to play in the league’s landmark game.
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“He loves it,” said Alex’s mother, Alyssa.
The family lives in an apartment complex near the recreation center. This season is Alex’s first time playing league sports.
He wears the No. 6 jersey as an outfielder and plays on a team called the WMA Rookies for ages 6 and 7.
“(The league) teaches Alex about structure, responsibility and sportsmanship, which he can use in everyday life,” Alyssa told LeBron.
The goal: revitalize youth baseball in West Ocala
The WMA Youth Baseball League is for girls and boys ages 6-12. It aims to revitalize youth league baseball in West Ocala, which was historically popular but absent for many years, possibly since the 1990s.
Laresa Scott of the WMA Youth Baseball League said youngsters from across the county make up the group’s current 50-player roster. The league’s name refers to the historic name of the auditorium on the grounds of the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Complex which is now called the ED Croskey Recreation Center.
Julie Johnson, assistant director of the City of Ocala Recreation and Parks Department, wrote in an email that the department was tasked in the early 1990s with “changing the way we support youth baseball to be more in line with how we support youth football and youth football. programs – facilitating the program rather than exploiting the program.
Ocala Highlands Baseball, which started in 1959; Scott Carrigan Baseball, which started in the 1980s; Wrigley Baseball and Softball Association, which is based at Wrigley Fields, a Marion County park in Citra; and the 12-court Marion County Rotary Sportsplex on Maricamp Road are among the community associations currently offering local youth leagues.
Vincent Gillings Sr., coach and president of the WMA Youth Baseball League, spearheaded the formation of the league, working in conjunction with several area pastors and volunteers.
Gillings, an ordained minister at the Welcome Stranger Missionary Baptist Church of Ocala, saw the need to start a baseball program that welcomed all children, but especially the youth of West Ocala who otherwise would not have the opportunity or to play organized baseball.
“I was at a game with my grandson at a Rotary Sportsplex field and had a vision of West Ocala youth baseball. The Pinckney Woodbury field was wasting away. I prayed to the Lord and things fell into place,” Gillings said. .
Gillings said the WMA Youth Baseball League will strive to fulfill its mission statement, which reads, in part, “(w) we will instill strong character, values, respect and life skills through mentoring and sports that will help them grow into responsible young adults and productive citizens.
The program will emphasize “academics, leadership, communication skills, responsibility, sportsmanship, respect, teamwork, fair play and self-confidence” through “leadership outstanding from our coaches and mentors,” the mission statement reads.
Adult volunteers must undergo a background check. Registration is $60 for the spring session, which lasts through May, Gillings said.
Parents appreciate the new league
Two of Tilda Bassett’s three sons, Bailey Lewis and Lemarkus Bassett, are involved with the Majors, a WMA Youth Baseball League team for 10- to 12-year-olds. Bailey is a team player and 22-year-old Lemarkus is a coach. His son Trevus Bryant, 24, came to watch.
Bailey loves sportsmanship and Lemarkus said it’s been good to see the players progress.
Tilda Bassett praised the social aspect of youth interaction in the league. She said acting is “good discipline”.
Shamille Johnson was at the opener with her two children: Anthony Price Jr., 16, and Ayden Price, 8.
Vince Gillings Jr., 33, son of the president and league coach, was at the game with his son, Ayden Wright, 12, and nephew Ashton Jones, 7. Vince Gillings Jr. said he played on the court 20 years ago.
Olden Williams, a 1968 graduate of Howard Academy in West Ocala, was on hand to cheer on the kids. He thinks league play is keeping youngsters positive.
Pastor Richard Howard of the New St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church was at the home opener in support of the league. Also at the game was the Rev. Jerone Gamble of Mount Canaan Missionary Baptist Church and moderator of the Second Bethlehem Baptist Association of Ocala; he is secretary and treasurer of the WMA Youth Baseball League.
Gamble said the WMA league business was not limited to baseball; it will also emphasize academics and field trip experiences for players.
“This league is about (instilling) values and building character,” Gamble said.
Gamble added that the coaches will also interact with the players’ families.
Big projects to come
Charles Dobson, supervisor of the City of Ocala’s recreation and parks program, said the city will provide a playing and training ground for the WMA Youth Baseball League to help get the program started. The longer-term plan calls for the league to eventually be self-sufficient and to sign an agreement with the city to include all ground-use fees, similar to other youth league associations using city grounds.
Dobson said a lot of work has gone into cleaning up, preparing and modifying Pinkney Woodbury Field for the game, including adding a set of bases and a throwing mound, each with a reduced distance of around 10 feet to accommodate young players.
Justin Miller, president and coaching coordinator for Scott Carrigan Baseball, said he’s “welcoming a new league” to Ocala.
The Scott Carrigan program averages around 110 players and offers young Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth team opportunities.
WMA Youth Baseball League teams have played several games with teams from the Wrigley Baseball and Softball Association.
Jeremy Ellis, president of the Wrigley Baseball and Softball Association, said it was “difficult” to start a new league and he wished the starter group well. Ellis said the Wrigley Fields facility has 20 baseball teams, nine softball teams and about 340 players.
Dobson said the Wrigley Baseball and Softball Association has done the WMA Youth Baseball League a “great favor” by hosting the games and that the game should be a “great help” to the developing WMA Youth Baseball League.