OCRA ball teams attract over 700 players

OKEECHOBEE — More than 700 kids are taking part in the OCRA baseball and softball programs this year, the most in over five years.

“We are happy to boast a great turnout for the 2017 spring ball season. We have been able to find sponsors for all 56 teams, and 48 of them are new sponsors,” President Malcolm Edenfield said.

Still there are complaints and concerns.

Several parents have raised questions about how the league organizes the t-ball teams. This year they had 16 teams, the most they have had in many years.

Edenfield said he is very pleased with how they have handled things. He said they drafted each team with 13-14 players. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the entire roster shows up for each game.

“Drafting of the teams is completed in a very friendly environment as most players are put on teams per the parent’s request, sponsors children, coach requests and the remaining players moved to teams to even the numbers.”

Parents have questioned why some teams have 14 players at a game while the other might only have seven players. Edenfield said that is caused by various reasons. About 75 percent of the team assignments are based upon parent requests

“We do lose some players in the process for everything from moving from the area, family situations changing, lack of transportation, sickness, etc.”

Edenfield said carpools are a big plus at the youth ball level as many parents can’t take their kids to every practice and every game and ask other parents to help them out.

The t-ball games don’t count in the standings and scores aren’t kept. It is a learning league. It teaches the kids fundamentals of the game, teamwork, and how to win and lose. It also helps them build social skills and get physical exercise. The league does keep a book of the games to guarantee that each player plays the minimum of 10 games.

“We are so excited about the huge numbers of teams in the t-ball group. The players will ultimately learn to love the game and stay to play building a good base for all older groups moving up,” he added.

Edenfield said four, five and six year olds are eligible to play t-ball. He did not have an age list of the players on each team. He said as expected, some have older siblings on the team and that puts them on one team roster over another. Some have friends they want to play with, etc. He said age is not part of the drafting process. There are no tryouts for t-ball. The older leagues have brief tryouts that showcase the child’s ability to hit, field and throw.

These tryouts occur at a designated night for their age group. The coaches get to watch them play and rank them from one to five. Once the tryouts are concluded, all coaches go to the score tower and the board oversees the draft of players. The rosters are numerically balanced as close as possible. They start with pitchers and catchers first to ensure that each team gets one of the best players. They then draft at random. Some trades can also take place among coaches if the players are rated equal on the 1 to 5 scale.

“We do strive to make things level across the board. We want the kids to have fun and have competitive games. We want the parents to be able to cheer for their kids. The only thing that matters is the kids. We’re not there to please the parents. We want them to enjoy the game,” he said.

The league has about 270 adult volunteers this year involved with the program. They give generously of their time and talents to help keep the program rolling. Some are coaches, some are assistant coaches, some do statistics, some work in the concession stand, and some help clean the spectator areas.

They also have a great concession stands that operates Monday thru Thursday night and all day Saturday. They have a delicious menu of food like hamburgers, hot dogs, nachos and drinks. All of the revenue generated goes back into the league. League financial statements are available at monthly board meetings.

The league has 19 softball teams, five 8 and under Darlings, five 10 and under Angels, four 12 and under Ponytails, and five combined teams of 14-18 year olds in Belles and Debs. The baseball program has 18 teams, with seven eight and under rookie teams, five 10 and under AAA, four 12 and under Ozone and two 18 and under Dixie Boys. The Dixie boys also scheduled games against Sebring and Avon Park teams to ensure they play 10 games this year. Avon Park will visit Okeechobee for games once this season to limit travel.

The league did have a football program last fall. They fielded six teams.

Edenfield said many parents are concerned about football injuries and concussions. He said many parents have opted to play a non-contact sport like baseball. The league did replace all of their football equipment last year and plan to see an increase in numbers this fall.

The OCRA meets on the first Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the sports complex trailer. It is an open meeting. Anyone who attends three meetings in a row can vote and make comments on any matter that comes before the board.

The officers this year include Edenfield, Vice President Tracy Sadler, Treasurer Jessica Slovenski and Secretary Billie Kessler. There are also 10 Directors on the Board.

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