United front

The Fort Dodge Recreation Alliance was formed in part to stabilize the current foundation of youth activities in the area.

Recreation administrator Ryan Maehl noted there is also a bigger picture in mind, though, as the first unified season of baseball and softball approaches.

”I equate it to planting a tree,” Maehl said during a roundtable discussion on Thursday at the Municipal Building. ”Trees don’t grow fast necessarily, but they mature steadily and are planted for future generations to enjoy.

”If we do this right, we can build a product that will not only benefit our community today, but establish a base for five, 10, 20 and 50 years down the road. We want to create a model we can be proud of that both teaches and serves our children.”

The Recreation Alliance – a partnership between the Fort Dodge Parks and Recreation Department and the Fort Dodge Community REC Center – has joined with leaders from the Fort Dodge Baseball Association and Fort Dodge Girls Fastpitch Association to develop youth leagues for 2014. A ”spring training” evaluation period will open the season in April, with team practices to follow and games beginning the week of May 19.

Teams will be formed in six age divisions: co-ed t-ball for pre-K; kindergarten and 1st grade; 2nd grade; 3rd-4th grade; 5th-6th grade; and 7th-8th grade. Cost is $40 per student in t-ball, and $50 per participant in the four other leagues.

Maehl highlighted a strong working relationship between the organizations, with a common goal in mind.

”Offering a quality program at an affordable rate,” Maehl said. ”A major point of emphasis was also to increase participation as much as possible. We want these kids to have fun – to get them out and then keep them out. We’re going to be as uniform and consistent as possible; ‘seamless recreation’ is a phrase we often use as our main goal.”

The Recreation Alliance’s first joint venture was basketball, where 42 teams, 350 kids and 55 volunteer coaches from around the area participated this past winter.

”We had an incredible response, though gym space became an issue and will be a concern as we move forward with such a large number (of participants),” said Nick Ford, youth and adult recreation director at the FDCRC. ”I’m really excited because of the strong relationship we’ve been able to quickly build with (the Parks and Recreation Department, the FDBA and the FDGFA). We’re all in it with the kids’ needs in mind. This is definitely the right thing to do.”

The eight total nights of preseason training – four for baseball and four for softball – will be used as an introductory and educational period for both coaches and players at Rogers Sports Complex, where practices and games will also be held.

”We want people to get acclimated to the new age groups and rules, because it is different (than what has been offered in recent years),” Maehl said. ”The spring training is an important time for the kids and coaches both. We’re incredibly fortunate both to have a facility like Rogers Park to work with and all of these tremendous people who are such positive leaders of their respective organizations. Of course there will be growing pains and learning to do along the way, but the good intentions are there, both for now and into the future. I am confident of that.”

FDBA president Nick Pederson emphasized the importance of ”getting the coaches and volunteers to buy into what we’re going to do.”

”Their support and enthusiasm is crucial,” Pederson said. ”We’re trying to build something that provides great experiences for our kids, who will learn the fundamentals of the game and have fun doing it.”

Chrissy Tjebben, president of the Fort Dodge Girls Fastpitch Association, said that ”everyone here got involved with the betterment of the community in mind.”

”The kids come first. We all want to do whatever we can to help and always keep that in mind,” Tjebben said. ”We really believe this (newly-formed league) will enhance their experience at a very reasonable cost.”

Maehl also expressed his appreciation for having the FDBA and FDGFA on board.

”My hope is that we see the gap bridged more and more between the organizations,” Maehl said. ”I know having kids and coaches (from the FDBA and FDGFA) will make a big difference from a quality standpoint. That was a big point of emphasis: getting everyone on the same page and not only working together, but excelling.”

Registration for the upcoming youth baseball and softball campaigns will continue through April 17.