Roosevelt Island will soon have two Little Leagues.
To hear the board of the Roosevelt Island Center of Community Development (RICCD) tell it, this runs way deeper than baseball for them. They don’t have a beef with the Roosevelt Island Youth Program and aren’t trying to compete with the established organization but want to empower high-capacity, high-character leaders for the physical, social, and cultural flourishing of Roosevelt Island. The board is very interested in youth development. That’s where starting a Little League came in.
According to Dan Sadlier, Chairman of the Board of Directors for the RICCD, “Baseball just makes sense for us.” He points to the Board as a group and explains that the Board’s thought process was, “What about Little League, why don’t we start there. We think this is something we can do well. We have some resources, people resources. We won’t bite off more than we can chew. Let’s start out with two leagues, two age groups, and Kim [Massey] and I have both been involved in it on the Island before. A lot of our coaches have have been involved at some level.”
RICCD Board member Kim Massey, former director of the Roosevelt Island Youth Center’s Beacon Program, says, “We’ve had a lot of parents ask for [Little League] too.” Sadlier agrees, “We had a bunch of people coming to us saying, ‘What do you guys think [about Little League]?’ Part of that is Kim’s been so credible with families.”
The age groups are 6-8 for the minors and 9-11 for the majors. Sadlier explained this breakdown is typical for Little League programs but that they extended the age by a few months so they could attract more young people.
For Sadlier, a father of six children (not a typo), his family makeup and passion go hand in hand. “I’ve coached with the Island [Beacon Program’s Little League] since we’ve lived here, so this would be the third season.” He says, “I’ve been really involved in it but I really had a hard time getting youth to volunteer beyond that. I ran into roadblocks, just a lack of response.”
Sadlier also said that last year, the program stopped three quarters of the way through the season. That has been confirmed by other parents. Sadlier isn’t sure whether the whole program stopped or just the minors, where he and his sons were involved. He said, “Half of the games we ended up winning by forfeit because there weren’t coaches for the other team or players weren’t communicated with. So for me, I have kids that I want engaged and the other program just wasn’t functioning.”
The board’s goal number for enrollees in the program is 100 kids, and they are confident they will meet it, with eight teams between the two age groups. Massey says, “I’ve been in the community long enough and I’ve been with people’s kids long enough that they trust me.”
Sadlier underscores this; “Our board, and the people that are volunteering with us, have pretty good standing with the kids and families in the neighborhood. We understand that the Youth Center has a legacy. For us, it’s not a competitive thing, just a vision, part of a larger community development.” He says, “It just makes sense for us to do youth recreation and beyond that, youth development.”
Sadlier believes that his organization’s Little League is part of a bigger piece and that the Island will suffer if the RICCD doesn’t fulfill its mission. He says, “For me the youth part is so huge because if you don’t do it well, in a gentrifying neighborhood, what will happen is families with resources will go find other programming off the Island and families without resources are left with potentially ineffective programming.”
“I’ve lived in gentrifying areas before and seen it happen. There is a nuanced leadership at the Youth Center and if [quality programming] is not there it’s really sad for kids - both groups, those who can afford off-Island enrichment suffer, and those who stay suffer. And the community as a whole suffers because the next generation is fragmented. So for me it’s important to get it right.”
RICCD has permits for Pony Field on Saturdays for games, and Capobianco Field for Monday, Wednesday and Thursday practices.
The cost of enrollment is $50 but they say kids in need can play for free. The group raised money from residents and business to subsidize the league. Sadlier explains they chose the $50 number, “so there is skin in the game.” They also have an option on their website to sponsor another child. Sadlier says of this decision, “All of a sudden you get the community engaged even more.” He added, “A couple of people who don’t have kids are giving some pretty gracious gifts. They understand the importance of it.”
As of March 8, they had 30 kids signed up, which Massey said is “not bad for the first couple of days.” Sadlier says, “Most of the kids who signed up I don’t have any connection with, which is good because I know that the kids I’ve coached the past couple of years will sign up.”
Massey says, “We are overstocking on coaches,” and between coaches, assistant coaches, and parent coordinators, 16 adults have already committed.
Sadlier adds, “We’ll do some fun things in the next month to engage kids. We’ll start creating a Facebook group and take it from there. We have a bunch of different ideas. Maybe we’ll get a table at the farmer’s market to get the word out.”
Massey and Sadlier were also riffing about possibly hiring an announcer for the league’s all-star game.
The group was formed about six months ago. So far they are offering English classes and have partnered with another Island not-for-profit, Do For One (DoForOne.org) whose mission is to develop and support relationships for people with developmental disabilities. They match one person with disabilities in need of companionship with another person who enjoys the more ordinary privileges in life to do their part in promoting a healthier community and richer lives.
Sadlier explains, “The important thing for us right now is, as simple as it sounds, to do two age groups of Little League. We want to do it well. We want to do it to scale. People have come to us to launch things under the umbrella of RICCD and we say, ‘Hey, just wait patiently.’ We want to do things well one at a time.”
Sadlier says, “We have three things going organically. Little League will be next. From that, who knows.”
A goal of the RICCD is to harness the Island’s talent, in the form of its diverse, well-educated, and interesting population. Sadlier says, “One of the reasons for the community development corporation is if there are higher-character leaders on the Island that want to do stuff, I want to figure out how to empower them.” He lists “People in the arts, people in politics. And that’s the youth leadership piece for me. How do we have United Nations ambassadors and diplomats and people who are running their own studios and not leverage them in regards to mentoring our youth?”
Specifically, according to Sadlier, “You got a person like Scot Bobo who’s chomping at the bit [to be involved], but the atmosphere on the Island is not necessarily conducive. And Kim [Massey] as well. I’m like, how are we not doing more?”
Massey says, “We even have young single professionals who want to get involved and help and coach and make a difference. Why are we not using the resources that are right here? They want to give back to their community.” Sadlier boasts, “I have some good relationships with young professionals on the Island, a small group of young professionals born and raised on the Island, but many who have moved here in the last four or five years. [They’re all wondering], ‘How do I get involved here’?
The Island is evolving and according to Sadlier, “If on a growing, gentrifying Island the opportunities aren’t there, it’s not a good thing. So that’s been part of it. The current programs don’t have the opportunity or don’t offer the framework for what it is to launch something tactfully, considering gentrification, and helping along the way to come up from underneath and support.”
What To Look Out For
Both Massey and Sadlier said, “We are going to have fun.” When it comes to uniforms and team names, Sadlier said, “We’ll have some fun with that. Scot Bobo is helping to coordinate a lot of it. Scot’s intense, man, he loves it.”
There will be an All-Star game, possibly with an announcer, noted above. They plan an opening pitch-hit-and-run competition they will open up to the entire Island. And some things they haven’t thought of yet. Sadlier says, “We are going to do some different things and just have fun.”
“This is crazy that this neighborhood is in the middle of New York City. You have to leverage that. You have to have fun with it, it’s a gift. It’s not normal in the suburbs in the Midwest, it’s just not normal in the Bronx. So to not take advantage of it …” Sadlier and Massey shake their heads.