New group hopes to advance youth baseball in Fort Smith

FORT SMITH – The goalies for youth baseball in Fort Smith may have recently changed, but the hope is to continue to develop the sport in the area and add softball as well.

It’s a message that Bill Kincannon, who grew up playing in the city as a youngster, wants to convey the group called Fort Smith Youth Baseball and Softball who will now take over the management of the leagues at Kelley Park.

Fort Smith’s board of directors recently selected the group, ending a 10-year lease with the Fort Smith Church League and more than 60 years of their imprint on the city’s youth baseball. The council accepted a three-year lease with the option of two one-year extensions.

“This kind of program needs to have new eyes and new ears,” said Kincannon, chairman of the group’s nine-member board. “It has to be fresh. It has to be parallel to the evolution of the game. It has to see everyone’s best practices.

“The group we have formed has so much in-depth knowledge and experience in all aspects of baseball and softball. From the game to teaching, instructing, coaching, organizing, I mean everything fell into place. “

He also tried to ensure that each board member brought different skills to add to the overall product, whether it was coaching, refereeing or other organizational aspects.

Kincannon highlighted factors such as more comprehensive instruction and not just for the players but also for the coaches and referees his squad will be working on. Another important point was the inclusion of a larger portion of the city’s population and the specific addition of softball.

There were 75 teams involving around 800 players aged 4 to 15 last season, according to Brent Lewis, who served on the Church League board and is now part of the new squad. It’s still quite a change from the start with just four teams in 1955 as part of the First Methodist Church’s youth program, according to the Church League website.

But the current system can still be improved and they have already started to implement some changes to try to help the sport develop.

“We are in unison with what we want,” said Kincannon, who has extensive experience with youth baseball as a coach. “And it’s the inclusion of everyone in the city of Fort Smith and surrounding areas so that you can have the same opportunities and it hasn’t been that way all the time.”

Build a foundation

Former Major League player Craig Gentry recalls fond memories of cutting his teeth as a youngster in the Fort Smith Church League.

The Fort Smith Christian graduate, who still has parents who live in Van Buren, went on to play college baseball in Arkansas-Fort Smith and for the Razorbacks before playing 10-season games in the big leagues for four different teams. .

But before all that, he donned the uniform of the Saint-Boniface Catholic Church, among others, from 10 to 15 years old, to stand out on the grounds of Kelley Park. Those formative years in the mid-1990s were special, Gentry said.

“It was a great experience for me,” said Gentry, who now lives in Texas. “To be honest, it was probably the most competitive league in the area. The guys who really play competitive baseball ended up going to the church league.”

He was part of a Church League All-Star team that won the state tournament and competed in a regional competition in Texas at the age of 15. This experience of facing exceptional competition and doing well was a sure springboard, he said.

“Going out there and playing really well was a big confidence boost for me,” said Gentry. “Competing at such a high level has really helped me grow.

Kincannon and his group are hoping to see those urban leagues that have lost numbers like many across the country to more travel teams take a positive turn.

A good start

Educational clinics have already been a success, Kincannon said.

The first softball clinic for 5 to 12 year olds saw about 80 kids, while almost 150 showed up at the baseball clinic a week later, he said.

“We had 25 softball instructors, and these are local college and high school players doing their part to give back with the coaches,” Kincannon said. “We had over 40 instructors in the second.

Board member Shea Hamilton said it was funny to see the reaction of the youngsters when told that Arkansas softball player Ally Sockey of Greenwood would give them instructions.

“It’s really something to see their eyes light up when you tell them to have a Razorback here,” Hamilton said. “And softball is a big part of that as well.”

He said there weren’t a lot of recreational softball leagues in town.

“Most of the softball in our area is played at Ben Geren Park, which is a county park,” Hamilton said.

On the baseball side, the group has also partnered with the Fort Smith Boys and Girls Club and the Fort Smith Fall Baseball League, he added.

He also plans internships for coaches and referees.

It’s just in an effort to get more people involved, Hamilton said.

“It’s not that the Parish League hasn’t tried, but we are reaching out to more areas of the city that haven’t played there,” he said. “We will have a scholarship fund for children who might not afford it. And we will try to use vans from the boys and girls club to transport the children to and from practice when we can.”

Kincannon said former Fayetteville High School star Cody Davenport, who went on to play baseball in Central Arkansas, told him that he and a group of his friends growing up had the best of both worlds playing in the Local baseball league during the week, then hit the travel circuit on weekends.

“He said ‘We all knew we had to play in the municipal league during the week and have fun against each other and then on the weekends we were teammates,” Kincannon said.

Format change

Another difference the new group wants to implement is a draft system for every team in the leagues, which should help overall competitiveness.

In the Parish League, some of the same teams would dominate all age groups year after year.

“It’s no fun being at each end of a 14-0 game,” said Hamilton.

Lewis admitted he thought it was beneficial in the fall league where he coached a team.

“Ours is very structured and the teams change every year,” said Lewis. “We’ve had a lot of success with that. The fall league has grown from about 200 kids to about 400 in the past six years.

“There’s no question in rec league baseball, a lot of the talent is gone. It’s going to the travel ball. What talent there is has got to spill out. travel ball play in the recreational league.With a son who does both, I saw both sides.

Current Arkansas baseball player Razorback works with kids at a recent clinic in Hunts Park in Fort Smith. The clinic was sponsored by Fort Smith Youth Baseball and Softball, which now oversees the city’s youth leagues. Photo by Shea Hamilton

OZK Classic Bank at the Ozark Activity Center

Girls

Tuesday

GAME 1 Hector 67, Lincoln 21

GAME 3 Mountainburg 51, County Line 37

THU 5 eStem 36, Cedarville 29

THU 7 Ozark 61, Johnson County Westside 32

Wednesday

THU 9 County Line 32, Johnson County Westside 29

THU 11 Cedarville 54, Lincoln 24

THU 13 Hector 53, eStem 48

THU 15 Ozark 54, Mountainburg 28

Thusday

THU 17 Johnson County Westside vs. Lincoln, 10 a.m.

THU 19 County Line v. Cedarville, 12:30 p.m.

THU 21 eStem vs. Mountainburg, 3 p.m.

THU 23 Hector vs. Ozark, 5:30 p.m.

Boys

Tuesday

GAME 2 Lavaca 76, Hector 36

THU 4 Cedarville 56, Mountainburg 52

THU 6 County Line 69, eStem 61 (2OT)

GAME 8 Ozark 68, Lincoln 56

Wednesday

THU 10 eStem 67, Hector 49

THU 12 Mountainburg 68, Lincoln 54

GAME 14 Lavaca 36, ​​County Line 28

THU 16 Ozark 41, Cedarville 27 6:45 p.m.

Thusday

THU 18 Hector vs. Lincoln, 11:15 a.m.

THU 20 Mountainburg vs. eStem, 1:45 p.m.

THU 22 Cedarville vs. County Line, 4:15 p.m.

THU 24 Ozark vs. Lavaca, 6:45 p.m.


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