Scheduling an outdoor baseball event in February can be as risky as attempting a suicide squeeze play with the game on the line.
But the sun is shining on the Lake Norman Little League of late. The league is growing and had perfect weather at its annual Skills Day on Feb. 18 at Cornelius’ Westmoreland Athletic Complex. Lake Norman Little League establishes team rosters based on how the hundreds of boys and girls perform in baseball and softball drills on Skills Day. Practice and games start in March.
Throughout Skills Day, league president Glenn Jones heard jokes about what a fine job he did ordering up 70 degrees and sunshine, a bonus when you’re coordinating baseball and softball drills for hundreds of elementary and middle school-aged boys and girls in an eight-hour time frame.
“I like hitting the balls, and I like catching the balls over there, and I like the way you throw the balls, and that’s it,” said 5-year-old Cornelius resident Aiden Balcerzak, who is moving up from tee ball to the machine-pitch Cactus League this year.
Aiden’s 7-year-old brother John is moving up to the 7- to 8-year-old Grapefruit League. Last year, his Cactus team played for the league championship.
“We just tried our best,” John said. “You get to bat. Sometimes you can be catcher. You can be outfield and try to catch one.”
Including co-ed tee ball, Lake Norman Little League has seven divisions of baseball in which players are determined by age and playing ability. Softball, which the organization added as a sport in 2016, has five divisions.
Skills Day is a one-day event in which league officers and coaches evaluate players’ abilities by having run through a series of drills. Their scores are used to determine placement in divisions and on teams. Teams are assembled through the league leaders’ attempts to balance them according to how the players grade out on Skills Day.
Jones estimated that 100 people volunteered to help at Skills Day covering everything from leading drills to registering players to fitting players for uniforms and selling league spirit gear.
“Skills Day runs well, but it’s due to all the support we get from the community and the parents who come out to volunteer,” said Jones, a Huntersville resident with sons Nathaniel, 13, and Nicholas, 11, in the program. “It’s a lot of fun when you have so many people here to help, trying to control this many people.”
Baseball is a game based on the number three (three strikes, three outs) so it was fitting that several of the age groups on Skills Day were evaluated in three skills: hitting, catching pop-ups, and fielding ground balls. At each of those stations, respectively, they got three swings, three pop-ups, and three grounders.
Players in older age divisions were also evaluated on pitching ability. Cheryl MacDonald of Huntersville, the mother of 7-year-old Alex and 10-year-old Brandon, says she likes how Skills Day helps determine each child’s appropriate division of play.
“It allows the kids to come out and show the coaches what they can do,” she said. “Whether it’s pitching, hitting or fielding, it really helps placing them with the right coaches and right level so the kids are at a level they’re not bored with.”
Following Skills Day, players will wait to hear what teams they have been placed on. Teams will have their first practices March 6 and their first games March 25.
Lake Norman Little League plays its games primarily at facilities in Cornelius and Huntersville through its partnerships with each town’s parks and recreation departments. The league also draws players from Davidson.
The organization has experienced tremendous growth since it was founded in fall 2011. Jones said it has grown 20 percent annually and now has 850 boys and girls.
To put things into perspective, that’s more players total players than the 30 Major League Baseball teams will have on their Opening Day rosters in April.
Joe Habina is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.