Fairfield to compete in bid to host state Little League tournament
Ice cream socials. Fishing derbies. A pancake breakfast. Movies in the park. Parade of champions. The list goes on as president of the Fairfield Little League, Catherine Schafer brainstorms how to entertain a throng of adolescent boys should she win the bid to host the Little League state tournament in July.
“My list of activities is so long it’s unbelievable,” said Schafer. “The community has so many people with great ideas as far as what we can do.”
Every summer one Little League team from each of the state’s seven districts has a chance to play in a week-long tournament hosted in a different city, rotating between districts. This year teams of 9- and 10-year-olds as well as the team of 11- and 12-year-olds will have a chance to play, but the city is as of yet undetermined.
Schafer is working to change that, compiling a package to present to Little League district administrators of the advantages of Fairfield. Aside from showing proof of a well-functioning Little League, Schafer also is required to include information on organized activities and amenities, gifts for the kids as well as meal and hotel coupons and deals. The deadline to apply is Jan. 27, and Schafer said now is the time to seek community support and input.
“We need to present all of the reasons Fairfield is a wonderful place for families to come, why we’re the best,” she said.
Schafer said competition has become fiercer since Fairfield last hosted in 2005. Each city in the district including Ottumwa, Keosauqua, Bloomfield, Sheraton and Centerville has the opportunity to join the bidding, she said.
Fairfield’s Little League boys’ team won the state title in Johnston in 1999 and advanced to the Midwest region tournament in Indianapolis. The region winners advanced to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
Before 2005, the last time the tournament took place in Fairfield was in 1992, according to Ledger archives. While requiring significant work, Schafer said it’s also a great tourism opportunity for Fairfield. For many families, she said, the tournament is their summer vacation.
“It would be a benefit to the local economy,” she said. “Players and their families come and stay in a hotel for four or five nights and are looking for activities.”
Last year, the Fairfield all-star team won its district and traveled to Sioux City for the state tournament.
Treasurer and manager of concessions, Ann Gary, said the team managers struggled to keep the team entertained.
“Do you know how hard it is to keep a dozen 11- and 12-year-old boys entertained?” she said. “They didn’t know where to go or what to do, and there’s only so much swimming you can do.”
Gary has been helping Schafer with ideas, and said so far results are promising.
Most recently they had the idea to tour Radiance Dairy, hold an outdoor movie night in a city park and organize a fishing derby.
Schafer presented to the Fairfield City Council Nov. 13 in city hall, requesting use of the square for the “Parade of Champions,” a little league tradition.
“We’d like the city council to back us on this,” she said. Mayor Ed Malloy and the council voiced support of the endeavor, and granted use of Central Park unless it conflicted with RAGBRAI celebrations.
“We will get behind this in any way we can,” said the mayor.
Schafer said she was not seeking a financial contribution, but instead ideas and enthusiasm in helping organize the event.
“It takes a lot of work and a huge amount of volunteer hours,” she said.
City administrator Kevin Flanagan said the state tournament was an opportunity to kick start the kind of tourism he hoped Fairfield could attract.
“It would bring a ton of people into town, and the type of people we want to bring: families,” he said. “Along with the indoor pool and gym facilities, it fits into where we’re heading with in-state tourism.”
Flanagan met with Little League board member Mark Myers and public works director Darrel Bisgard Monday on the field to discuss improvements.
“There’s serious work to do,” said Flanagan. “There are quality problems, and the facilities need a little face lift.”
For Myers, improving the fields would not only help secure the state bid, but would be in keeping with a family tradition of service at the Little League.
“The main inspiration for me personally is to get it back to the point where it was at when my parents were involved in it 25 years ago,” he said. “I want to get it back to where on a Saturday afternoon, that’s where you’ll find your kids.”
Myers said the issue has not been enrollment — with 400 Little League and 100 T-ball players last season — but of parent involvement and volunteering.
“I’d like to get it back to the point where we could be considered for a state tournament,” he said.
Myers, Bisgard and Flanagan discussed drainage issues in low-lying areas of the park Monday. Myers said the Little League, a nonprofit organization, will be fundraising for work requiring general contractors. When the Little League begins seeking team sponsors next year, Myers said the mailing will include an option to donate an additional $25 to the cause. He said this effort alone could potentially cover the cost of improvements.
“A bunch of small drops would make a really big puddle,” he said.
Volunteer opportunities ranged from repainting and re-shingling dugouts, to planting bushes or trees and picking up trash, he said.
“We are looking at it from every standpoint,” he said. “People can donate time, effort, labor or material.”
While he and Schafer hope they can make significant improvements by next July, Myers said the scope of the project could take several years. Myers coaches his 4-year-old son’s T-ball team, Fairfield Tire.
“I want to give the kids a good facility they can be proud of,” he said, “and give them the opportunity to play a little more, and get more tournaments here.”