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Play Ball! EBLL celebrates 40 years

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On Saturday, February 26, East Bay Little League’s opening day will herald 40 years of the program.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN  mitch@observernews.net

GIBSONTON - Go out to the garage and find an old baseball glove, then hold it up to your face to smell the leather. Decades of memories may come flooding in for the players, coaches, parents and fans involved in the East Bay Little League (EBLL). On Saturday, February 26, East Bay Little League’s opening day will herald 40 years of the program. With more than 860 players, the East Bay Little League is one of the largest organizations in the Tampa Bay area and with 40 years of history, it is one of the oldest. Both statistics speak volumes about the success of the program.

The home field for East Bay Little League is at Vance Vogel Park in Gibsonton. The complex consists of seven fields with an eighth field expected to be completed by opening day. The league is a 501c3 non-profit organization comprised entirely of volunteers with a mission to promote, develop, and supervise the interest of every child that participates in baseball or softball. The league’s mission statement states that through exemplary guidance and leadership the volunteers of East Bay Little League will assist youth in developing the qualities of citizenship, discipline, teamwork and respect, along with physical and emotional well being.

There are few pursuits more purely American than Little League baseball. On this and the following Saturdays, hundreds of children involved in the program will take to the fields while parents and volunteers serve as coaches and concessionaires. For baseball fans everywhere, there could be no more perfect way to spend an afternoon than watching baseball as it was meant to be played: with heart and soul by children who want nothing more than to play the game.

“We have a very strong history here,” said East Bay Little League President Rob Vigh. “We have coaches who used to be players here — and some of their coaches are still here from when they were kids. We play baseball a lot more here in the south than they do in the north. We play in both the spring and the fall and many of these kids play travel ball, too. There are a lot of good baseball players here.”

Although registration for the spring season is now closed, the league is open to any child with an interest and willingness to play ball.

“The coaches work to get everyone out to play and some kids don’t start until they are 10 or 11 years old,” Vigh continued. “But there are also the kids who have been playing since they were four or five years old.”

The league board of directors recently made an investment to ensure that baseball is indeed accessible for every child who wants to play.

“We have just started a Challenger Division,” Vigh said. “The field of play is ADA-compliant and will allow children in wheelchairs and with disabilities to play. We want to encourage them to do as much as they can, but if they can’t we have people to help.”

Although Vance Vogel Park is a county-owned property, EBLL leases the space for their use. The league receives little financial support from the county beyond maintenance of the facility. As such, fees charged by the league are used to pay for everything from field maintenance and baseline chalk, to practice and safety equipment. The league also pays dues for its membership in Little League International. The organization relies heavily on the support of parents and other volunteers for jobs ranging from coaches to the concession stand.

Despite the significant financial demands of operating a large league, the East Bay Little League is dedicated to ensuring that no child gets turned away for lack of money. For families in need, the organization offers scholarships, with all information kept in confidence.

In addition to the opening day ceremonies, events will include a raffle, with chances to win a new car, an X-Box, an Easton Omen bat and $10 gift certificates for Dick’s Sporting Goods. There will also be a blood drive for the Florida Blood Services organization.

On Saturday, February 26, come out to celebrate not only America’s history and favorite pastime, but also 40 years of success for East Bay Little League. For more than 860 children and their fans throughout South Hillsborough, it’s time to play ball!

For game schedules and further information about East Bay Little League, visit their website at www.eastbayll.org.

The History of East Bay Little League

Compiled by Chere Simmons

East Bay Little League was organized in 1970 when a group met at Gardenville Park in Gibsonton to iron out details for the upcoming season.

Those attending this inaugural meeting were Bill Rice, Gerald and Martha Simmons, Bill and Roseanne Yousko, Earl and Shirley Watson, Norman and Maxine Easton, Claude and June Tanner, Junior and Betty McGowan, Jerry and Phyllis Miltner and Jean Maxson.

Until EBLL was formed players were limited to playing at recreational parks and high school.

Posters were made announcing registration and placed all around the Ruskin, Gibsonton, Riverview, Wimauma and Balm areas encouraging families to sign the petitions placed in local post offices. In that first round of registration 325 boys signed up to try out.

At the second meeting of the group officers were elected and C.A. Prevatt was named the first president of the League.

Other officers in various positions were Bill Rice, Phyllis Miltner, Maxine Easton, Shirley Watson, Earl Watson, Claude Tanner, Beverly Goodyear, Robert Rowell, Steve Rimes, A.J. Goodyear, Jack Tucker and Martha Simmons.

Sponsorship of teams was unique the first year, while tropical fish farms had their names on the abundance of uniforms, some teams actually had a different sponsor on every player’s back.

The Observer News has been on the scene since the beginning, reporting scores and publishing photos and news. The photos supplied on this page were taken by photographers of The Observer.

Following are some facts about the structuring of the League in the early years:

  • The first fundraiser held for the league was a fish fry. Tickets were sold for $1 each and netted the league $1,000.
  • The first tryouts were held Feb. 20, 1971 in the field that is now utilized by the EB Buccanneers football league.
  • There were only three fields on opening day in 1971.Grapefruit and minor league teams shared a field, major and minor leaguers shared another, and senior boys used the final field.
  • There were 23 teams in 1971 including a Big League team.
  • Since there were no lights the first year, evening games were played at Gardenville Park in Gibsonton.
  • The Big League team (16-18 year olds) played at East Bay High School in hand-me-down Indian uniforms.
  • In 1972 the first concession stand was erected. It was a 2-story T-shaped building that housed scorekeeping booths that protruded toward each of the three fields. The upstairs left plenty of space for storage and board meetings while the ground level held the concession, kitchen, food storage and restrooms.
  • The most successful fund raiser during the early years was in 1972 when the League raffled a brand new Ford Pinto. Tickets sold for $1 each and 8,500 tickets were sold.
  • At the midway mark of the season in 1972 the League held a ceremony to burn the mortgage on the lights. Attending the ceremony was Emmett Laird (then president of First Ruskin Bank) and County Commissioner Ellsworth Simmons. The League was operating “in the black” in only its second year.
  • The Senior Division Section 2 Tournaments were hosted by EBLL in 1973, a huge undertaking for a fledgling league.
  • Residents of Sun City Center were instrumental in the success of the league. They supported their fundraisers, umpired games, and the SCC Rotary Club paid for lights on the fourth field constructed.
  • Softball is finally available in 1977. Girls now joined the ranks of the baseball players, they were called Leaguettes.
  • The original concession stand burned in 1986 and along with it went years of history like team photos, trophies and other records.

This is only a brief look at the early years giving recognition to those who put their lives and businesses on hold while they transformed an empty field into the American dream for area youngsters.

East Bay Little League has a proud, rich history that has defined many lives. The hard work of so many dedicated parents and citizens in the beginning has left a legacy to be shared for many generations.

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