Improving the Little League in Immokalee

IMMOKALEE — Immokalee loves sports. All kinds of sports – football, basketball, soccer and, of course, baseball.
Problem is, so much of Immokalee’s sports infrastructure is aging and inadequate.
A group of involved residents are working with the Collier County Recreation Department to expand and improve the sports experience for Immokalee’s children.
Last May County Commissioner Tim Nance got various groups involved together to get the ball rolling on improving Little League experience in Immokalee. Commissioner Nance has noted that District 5 is the largest land area of the county districts and also is home to many children and families in need of wholesome recreation. He has promised to support local efforts to create more sports fields in Immokalee.
According to Barry Williams, Parks and Rec Director of Collier County Parks and Recreation, a shortage of fields, especially for Spring play, is a common problem with other communities as well. Mr. Williams attended the meeting in May that attracted many supporters of Immokalee athletic teams – all trying to find better ways to use existing resources and add to them.
The group is evaluating resources, looking for opportunities and trying to decide exactly what is needed.
They will probably have to work on short term fixes first, then follow up with more expensive, more complicated and time consuming long term solutions.
Little League is a perfect example.
In spite of less than perfect playing and practice fields, this year the Immokalee seniors brought home the District Championship for the first time.
Imagine what these kids could do with improved facilities.
This year 233 young athletes, ages 4-16, signed up for Little League, making up 20 teams. That’s a lot of baseball – but not enough. Some 30 kids had to be turned away because there were no coaches for them. Last season Immokalee Little League fielded 23 teams.
There are five board members and they rely on parents from each team to man the concession stand for each game. Students from local schools also put in volunteer hours to help out at the concession, help keep score or work the pitch count. According to Immokalee Little League President William Trevino, 12-14 volunteers a day, including two board members, are on site at every game.
So every year, the kids are anxious to play. Parents and other adults come out to coach and make it all happen. But there aren’t enough ball fields in Immokalee to accommodate all the kids who want to play.
That’s one of Immokalee’s big problems – there just aren’t enough fields to play on.
In November Little League starts registering kids and picking board members, then play begins at the end of February through the end of May. In June All Stars are picked and they could be playing till the end of August.
To date Little League has not had a fall season, but it’s on Mr. Trevino’s wish list. Fall is a variation of the regular season on a smaller scale.
Travel ball and Little League are separate entities.
Mr. Trevino said players can actually continue in Little League till they’re 18. The Big League season starts after the high school baseball season is over.
As with everything, meeting expenses can be difficult. Team sponsors help out with uniforms and are rewarded with a plaque and a banner. Registration fees help when there is no team sponsor and is also used for equipment.
Parks and Recreation Regional Manager Annie Alvarez is involved in baseball every year, and confirms that Immokalee is in serious need of ballfields to accommodate its young athletes. One way they hope to expand capacity is by working with the school board to use the middle schools fields for practice.
There are a lot of problems that need to be ironed out with that plan. The field needs to be fenced and security addressed, parking needs to be separate and restroom accommodations need to be made. Scheduling middle school activities and Little League games will also be tricky.
There is a possibility that school property may be used after 5:30 p.m. However, there would be a huge cost for lighting that would have to be Mr. Trevino dreams about a sports complex with a T-ball field, two baseball fields (for major and minor teams), two clay softball fields (for major, minor and senior), one intermediate baseball and one senior field.
With a total of seven fields, he said there could be a men’s softball, co-ed leagues, tournaments and special sporting events that could generate money for Little League. The complex would include Pop Warner football field and soccer field.
Mr. Trevino said that Collier County Parks and Recreation has really tried to help them out with the use of the fields. The problem, though, won’t be easy to fix.
Having Commissioner Nance as a “cheerleader” when the community is ready will help when the time finally comes. After all, Commissioner Nance said, “The kids are the ones that benefit.”

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