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Date of Issue: January 27, 2010

Island Little League goes on hiatus

Island Little Leaguers with dreams of hitting long balls will have a longer drive to get to the ballpark this spring.

The Anna Maria Island Little League board resigned recently. Parents and league officials agreed that this spring, minor, major and junior Little Leaguers from Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach will play in the Manatee West Little League headquartered at G.T. Bray Park in Bradenton.

The Anna Maria Island Community Center, however, will host younger children playing tee ball and machine-pitch baseball.

It’s a development that may be better for competitive ballplayers on the Island, according to some parents and coaches.

“What we found in the past couple of years is that our Island kids are behind in the competition level [compared] to the kids in town,” said Islander JoDene Moneuse, whose children play Little League baseball. “They’ve always had fun being with all their friends on the Island, but if you are actually interested in hopefully making a high school team, you have to be able to be part of that competition.”

The decision for the Island league to go on hiatus was arrived at earlier this month, following an online survey and meeting of parents and coaches at the Center.

“This was a community decision, not a Center decision,” emphasized Andy Jonatzke, the sports director for the Center.

The Center has a long tradition of promoting youth baseball, but Anna Maria Island Little League is a separate entity. Many of the league’s teams played at the Center and the league paid a rental fee for lights.

In mid-January, Jonatzke announced the public forum to discuss the problems the Island Little League has faced in recent years.

Jonatzke cited a decline in the number of players and a challenge in recruiting adults to serve as board members, coaches and in other volunteer roles. Sponsorship also was down last year — by 50 percent compared to 2007.

Declining enrollment and sponsorship are issues Little League organizations have been dealing with across the country.

Islanders decided to address the issues by working with the Manatee West league to accommodate older kids, creating a Center baseball program for younger kids and working to rebuild and reorganize the Island league for 2011 or 2012.

At least four people are needed to serve on a league board, said Jonatzke, who previously served on the Island Little League board.

“If we could find somebody with a passion,” he said, the league may reorganize for the 2011 season.

The Center’s 2010 baseball activities will likely begin in April and be for children ages 7-11, Jonatzke said, adding that depending on talent, a child may take the field with older or younger players.