Little League District IV consolidating

Little League District IV consolidating

Woonsocket leagues merge, Lincoln absorbs Central Falls

Already the smallest of four Little League districts in the state, District IV, which encompasses most of northern Rhode Island, will have two fewer programs this season, leaving it with eight leagues.

The anticipated merger between East Woonsocket and Bernon Little Leagues is complete and the program has become Woonsocket Little League. Both programs had been struggling with enrollment during the past few years, prompting the merger.

Last week, Lincoln Little League President John Sharkey announced that his program will be temporarily absorbing Central Falls Little League because that program has disbanded.

"We've been interleaguing with them for the past three seasons, and heading into this year, they had no board of directors or coaches, so the kids can come play here," said Sharkey. "Our hope is that people in Central Falls are able to resurrect the program in the future."

Last season, there was only one Little League team from Central Falls, and one Minor League team that interleagued with Lincoln, so Sharkey does not anticipate a drastic influx of new players.

"There weren't big numbers before, and I would suspect that transportation may be an issue for some kids," said Sharkey. "We're collecting registrations now."

He said there is a possibility that two facilities in Central Falls, on High Street and on Higginson Avenue, would be utilized by the merged program. Higginson Avenue borders Lincoln.

District IV Administrator Ron Lopes of Smithfield said he strongly supports both mergers.

"We believe that both the Woonsocket merger and the boundary expansion of Lincoln to include Central Falls are in the best interest of the district and the kids we serve," Lopes said. "Baseball and softball are declining in numbers. The kids in our area have numerous sports to consider, many on a year-round schedule, they do not always make the choice to play Little League."

In the case of Woonsocket, the two leagues are able to combine resources to give city youngsters the best possible experience, said Lopes.¬?

"The trend for both leagues indicated that registrations and volunteerism were steadily declining in both leagues," the administrator said. "The merger allows both programs to operate without risk of financial decline and also¬?one common¬?league for baseball and softball families in the city of Woonsocket offering both baseball and softball. The volunteers in the Woonsocket program are top notch."

Though the merger reduced the size of District IV, Lopes said the program will provide more opportunities for more children than ever.

Woonsocket will have a stronger and more competitive future as a result of this merger, he said.

The case of Central Falls is very different.¬?

Because of economic conditions, field conditions and lack of volunteerism in Central Falls Little League, it was unrealistic to think the league could continue as its own entity, said Lopes.

"In the short term, the best solution was to expand the boundary of Lincoln Little League to include Central Falls athletes," said the administrator. "There are many positives to this. John Sharkey and the Lincoln volunteers run a solid program and can offer continuing education to both Central Falls players and volunteers.¬?Lincoln also offers a softball program, which Central Falls had not."

Lopes said the expansion of Lincoln League to include Central Falls is only a short-term solution.¬?District IV has been working with the Central Falls Parks and Recreation Department director and local sports leaders in the city to get the program back on its feet.

Although District IV is the smallest in the state, it has been the most successful. Teams from District IV have captured the state championship in both boys Majors all-stars and girls Majors softball all-stars in four of the past five seasons.

Sharkey said that the district has discussed the possibility of expanding, but that plan has not met with favorable response from officials in other districts.

Cumberland is the only program that has two separate leagues that compete in all-stars.

Other programs in District IV are Smithfield, North Smithfield, Burrillville, Scituate-Foster and Glocester.

"Although the Woonsocket merger and the boundary expansion of Lincoln leave District IV as the smallest district, it is our opinion that it will make us a stronger and more competitive district," said Lopes. "Most importantly, the district is doing everything it can to make sure any child interested in playing Little League is provided with the opportunity to play in a strong program, rich in volunteerism."