Roslyn Little League Still Going Strong

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little league logoModern-day Roslyn is a product of the suburban boom of the 1950s and part of that era was the rise of Little League baseball. Prior to World War II, youngsters interested in sports generally played in loosely-organized sandlot leagues before graduating onto high school ball and beyond. In 1948, for instance, there were no less than 64 minor league divisions in professional baseball. Many American men of that era probably have a male relative who played professional sports.

Times have changed, but Little League carries on, in Roslyn and thousands of similar towns and villages. Have new competitors such as soccer and travel party baseball leagues, made a dent? The answer, according to David Ozer, president of Roslyn Little League, is “yes,” but no one can image Little League competition in Roslyn or elsewhere diminishing very much.

“Roslyn Little League continues to thrive in a very crowded and competitive sports environment,” Ozer told The Roslyn News. “We currently offer baseball and softball from Pre-K through seventh grade in the fall and spring seasons. Our enrollment varies from between 500-700 children, depending on the season and year. Some age groups tend to be stronger than others. We have definitely witnessed a decline in membership over the last 3-5 years, with the rapid growth of third party travel organizations and other youth-based sports, however the Little League remains a strong community-based oriented league for every type of skilled player. We have a robust sponsorship program, allowing local businesses to participate in our league. Our Challengers program continues to build with both participants and student volunteers, offering children with special needs an opportunity to don a uniform each week. We have a full color digital yearbook coming out this week. Separately, the league spends quite a bit annually on trainers to ensure the boys and girls are learning the proper skills of the sport as well as a travel program for those seeking more competitive baseball and softball.”

The league currently has 13 divisions, including boys’ kindergarten and leagues for boys in grades 1 to 3, plus both a minor and major league division. There are girls’ divisions for girls in kindergarten and first grade and those for girls in second and third grade, fourth grade and fifth and sixth grade. There is a rookies’ division for preschoolers both boys and girls and one for physically-challenged children.

And As A Bonus

(Ed. note: Enclosed here is a particularly moving piece on the history of Roslyn Little League, written by the late screenwriter and Roslyn native Jerry Brondfield, one that originally appeared in a 1992 issue of The Roslyn News to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Little League in the village. Brondfield himself made many contributions to Roslyn Little League. Among them was his authorship of a 1952 documentary, This Is Little League, originally distributed by RKO-Pathe and one that played in thousands of theaters across the country. The 14-minute long documentary includes scenes from village life, complete with gas-guzzling, made-in-America automobiles, plus a swarm of young men trying for and then playing Little League games in front of large and enthusiastic crowds.)

To view the video, click here. Don’t miss it!

Remembering Chippy Allen:

A History of Roslyn Little League

So, Roslyn Little League is 40 years old and I’ve been asked to help commemorate the anniversary with some reminiscences that go back to….Good Lord! 1952? Believe it, though, because that’s when it all started, and yes, I do remember.

I was one of the early presidents and prompted by the invitation to commit those memories to print, they come back with a rush.

First, there was the need. Little League, as a community enterprise nationally, had only been in business about a decade and we sure had the need in Roslyn. The need to accommodate all those kids who were proliferating all over The Heights, Strathmore, Country Club, Fairfield Park, Westwood, The Estates, etc., sons of those early post-war precursors of Yuppyville newly arrived from Forest Hills, Brooklyn, Manhattan and outlying precincts in Ohio, Illinois, or Michigan newly transferred to The East.

So, Roslyn got a Little League franchise from the Founding Fathers in Williamsport, PA in the Spring of 1952 and BOOM, within a couple of years Roslyn had what was purported to be the largest suburban enrollment anywhere in the US of A. Maybe 500 kids in all. Probably more. Don’t hold me to that figure. There are limitations to my powers of recall.

Hans Kemper, an advertising guy who was our first president, and Cliff Marcks, a heating oil distributor who was born and raised in Roslyn when just about half the town worked on the estate of multi-millionaire Clarence Mackay (now Country Estates) were the prime movers in the start-up. The next president was Charley Speers, an American Airlines Veep, followed by a high-fashion photographer named Bill Ritter then Walt Mills, a phone company executive. Then me, at the time a writer/director for RKO-Pathe short subjects.

The first year was chaotic but a barrel of fun. A hit-and-miss (in more ways than one) tryouts were held for the major and minor league aspirants with evaluations that was less than perfect, but refined in later years. But it was that first 8-year-old group that provided the chuckles. No try-outs. All the names were posted at the high school and someone had simply divided them into groups of 12 kids to a team, willy-nilly, let the chips fall where they may in terms of talent.

One father-coach swore that at the time that the got his club together, he held up a round-white object and said: “This is a ball….” Eight-year olders were probably the only group that had not yet received much, if any parental attention, baseball-wise. And television had yet to make an impact on them. So we had kids who picked dandelions in the outfield while a ball (luckily hit) rolled on past them. Or who watched an airplane overhead as the pitcher was winding up. Or didn’t show up that day because he had the measles.

I managed the Mudhens. I could take time off from work whenever I wanted, so we practiced three times a week. Three times more than any other team, apparently. One of my kids said his Mom wanted to know if I worked for a living or was just a bum because we practiced so much. Anyway, we killed the whole 8-year-old league and were undefeated champs. I had good kids. Four Mudhens later became doctors, one a lawyer, one a big-shot travel agent.

Only the major leagues wore full uniforms the first few years. My little leaguers only had T-shirts bearing the generic designation: Roslyn Little League. Local fathers served as umpires with the exception of Allen Miller, the village receiver of taxes, who owned an ump’s outfit of blue pants, blue shirt and dinky little ump’s cap. He was the only ump in the organization who got home without his character being debased. Father/umps lost friends and even neighborhood standing. At least one admitted he lost his bedroom privilege when he called his own son out on a low pitch with a runner on third.

All games, including the majors, were played at Roslyn High School and the Heights elementary school. The high school fields (two of them) were solid dirt with about an inch overlay of fine, dusty residue constantly churned up. When the first championship playoff between the two major divisions was held we spiffed up the fields as best we could. A dozen or more managers and fathers got hold of all the schools’ push brooms and swept the field clean, down to the hard clay.

A couple of years later, in the summer of 1954, Temple Beth Sholom generously offered to turn over its lower level parcel of land as a site for permanent fields. The League itself had to build the facility.

Most of the work would have to be done in early autumn, 1954, so grass could be planted for best growing effect. Dugouts and fences had to be planned and built. Metal backstops and bleachers could wait until spring of 1955. There was a general feeling among our collection of amateur designers and builders that the undertaking would compare favorably with the Great Pyramids of Egypt and the TVA Dam. And what we saw at first sight of those three acres was a vast sea of solid underbrush and scrub trees that would have turned back Lewis and Clark.

Walt Mills, president-elect for next year, turned the project over to me, simply saying: “build two fields.” It would take money, of course. Lots of it. Tom Allen was appointed chief fund raiser and launched a telephone campaign that raised thousands. I don’t remember exactly how much but I do recall we wouldn’t have to scrimp.

First we appealed to local construction people and in a trice we had bulldozers and earth-mover machinery in there. They scrunched up all the underbrush, scrub trees and leveled the entire area. They also dug foundations for two dugouts. I wish I could remember the names of those people. They were super.

We begged a deep discount from one of the local itinerant lawn maintenance guys and he brought in his crew. We laid out the two fields, back-to-back, had the whole thing roto-tilled and planted with seed. By mid-October, we had the most gorgeous stand of grass we’d ever seen. Temple Beth Sholom allowed us to run in water pipes for irrigation. We hit up the LIRR for old railroad ties to shore up the base for dugouts. They also gave us three truck loads of sand for a path around the fields.

It was a triumph over a million details and none of it would have worked without the always-there presence of Carol Salisbury, the lovely and energetic secretary of Roslyn Little League, who met the trucks, the mechanics, the materials and all deadlines without a hitch.

Came Spring of 1955, we installed the dugouts, backstops and outfield fences. Another gift of 10 gallons of green paint were slathered on the outfield fences, with half of it on our volunteer parents. The last chore before opening day in May was the spreading of two truckloads of snazzy red clay and brick dust over the two infields for big-time effect.

And then…tragedy. Or almost. On Thursday night before the Sunday opening-day ceremonies, Roslyn was hit by an almost hurricane-like rainstorm. Most of the dirt road down to the field was washed onto one of the fields, almost obliterating it. We knew we could not work on Temple property on Saturday, so we got a crew of parents together on Friday and with herculean effort removed the debris and got another truck load of red clay by mid-afternoon and finished by sundown.

Sunday on a beautiful May day was a perfect setting for the new era of Roslyn Little League with two games played simultaneously on the two fields. I forgot who made the first speech or who threw out the first ball. It was a terrific day.

Soon there would be other highlights in early Roslyn Little League history. RKO-Pathe came out and made a lovely short subject for theater release called, This Is Little League. It dealt entirely with our program (Why not? I wrote it.) and it played in thousands of movie houses all over America.

But it had its big opening night in the Roslyn theater down in the village. Big lights. Razz-matazz. Mort Sunshine, an executive with Variety Clubs of America (theatrical) prevailed upon the Brooklyn Dodgers to send out a delegation of players and the legendary Gil Hodges and several of his teammates captivated the huge crowd. We made a bundle on the ticket sale. The following year, CBS sent out one of its stars named Sonny Fox who was featured in a series called Let’s Take A Trip, and he toured a Little League for a nationwide TV show. Hey, we were big-time, all right!

So many names come to mind for all the effort they made to get Little League in operation those first few years: Art Marvin, Norm Dichter, Lenny Altman, Hal Hirschaut, Jerry Kane, Carol Salisbury, Roz Pollock….so many others. It was a labor of love and they fell in love with their labor. A jillion kids benefited.

One kid I’ll never forget. His name was Chippy Allen, a smiling freckle-face pitcher on the Tigers. He represented everything that was good about Little League participation.

He also represented everything that was good about young Americans. In Vietnam he covered, singlehandedly, the evacuation of several wounded comrades in his platoon, fighting off a force of Viet Cong until he finally was killed. He was awarded a medal for bravery posthumously. Not long ago I did a piece about him for Reader’s Digest. It was called “The Little Leaguer I’ll Never Forget.”

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Joe Scotchie is the editor of both The Roslyn News and New Hyde Park Illustrated News. In 2009, he won a New York State Press Association award for a sports feature. Joseph Scotchie’s past publications include biographies of Thomas Wolfe and Richard Weaver and a comprehensive history of the city of Asheville, North Carolina.

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