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Summer league baseball seems to be dying in the community.

Growing up in the Williamson area, before official Little League baseball became a reality, there was the old Williamson Midget League.

There were teams from East End, West End, Chattaroy, Town, South Williamson and plenty of kids who wanted to play. Before Brother Reid Park was built next to historic Lefty Hamilton Park, games were played at the old City Softball Park next to the pool.

Then there was the Babe Ruth League division for kids from ages 13-15 years old. There were at least four teams with about 15 kids on a roster. There was plenty of talent to go around.

There was the Post 49 American Legion team that was a really big deal in years past. Williamson's team coached by Jim Van Zant won several state championships.

Teams were sponsored by local clubs like the Moose, Elks, Rotary or Kiwanis. Some were sponsored by businesses like Price Motor Company, the team I played on in the early 1970s. I and many others have great memories of playing in the regular season and then in all-star competition.

If kids were not playing in an organized league, you would find them on a sandlot or a grade school field playing every day.

At Nolan, where I grew up, we had a short field at the grade school lot and played both softball and baseball. There was also the Mingo-Pike Boy Scout Softball League that we participated in.

If you watch the move "Sandlot," many of us can relate to summers like that and playing all day and every day with our friends on a makeshift diamond.

Just a few years ago, when myself and many others were coaching in the local Little League program, there was always four or five full teams and you had T-ball, minor league, major league and senior league divisions.

Williamson fielded some great all-star teams throughout the years and there were many talented players.

Eventually the number of kids signing up to play dwindled down. Local leagues started to play inter-league games - which was good to for the teams to play against leagues from the Matewan-Red Jacket, Lenore-Tug Valley, Belfry and Delbarton.

The local leagues now are lucky to have one or two teams in an age bracket.

Now the numbers are down for all of the leagues in the area. Teams have to branch out further to schedule games.

Some leagues have turned to the Cal Ripken franchise and moved from traditional Little League.

AAU and travel baseball has hurt the local league. AAU basketball has cut into player participation for many years in the baseball leagues. Kids seem to specialize in one sport now instead of playing two or three different sports.

Parent participation and adult volunteerism has also gone down.

It is a real shame that such a great sport - what was known for many years as the "Great American Pastime" - seems to have died in the Tug Valley area.

I sure miss those days and I hate to see the youngsters of today miss out on those same great memories.

Kyle Lovern is editor for the Williamson Daily News. He can be contacted at 304-236-3526 or via e-mail at klovern@HDMediaLLC.com.

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