Saturday’s opening day ceremony will be Tony Sammartano’s last as Riverhead Little League president. After about 15 years at the helm, organizing an activity that hundreds and hundreds of kids have had the opportunity to enjoy, it’s time for him to move on to greener pastures.
Problem is, it’s not exactly clear who, if anyone, is going to run the league after Tony and his wife, Jennifer — another of the league’s five board members — step down.
Riverhead Little League currently has only half the board members it had when Tony started as president. Once the Sammartanos move on, it may not be physically possible for the remaining three volunteers to run a league with close to 25 teams, unless those they feel like making it a full-time job. There are schedules, paperwork, uniforms, sponsors; someone behind the curtain makes all of that stuff happen after the opening day ceremony is over. And even before it occurs.
When I got the email about Tony’s plans to step down, my initial intention was to run it as a news story. But after speaking with him, I knew I had to take a different approach.
Some of my best childhood memories came from playing baseball — winning my town’s Little League championship, making the varsity team and forming friendships that I’ll be able to look back on years from now. Other, harder lessons came from there as well: getting beaten up once or twice (or a few more times) on the mound, deciding to quit varsity baseball, or learning that I didn’t make the cut on a post-high school team.
Through baseball, I learned (or like to think I learned) valuable lessons such as teamwork, leadership, patience, strategy. The list goes on. I really think all the stuff people say sports teaches you off the field, is true. Not to say baseball is the only way you’ll learn those lessons, but the fact that Riverhead’s Little League could be in danger of folding could be a very real loss for the town’s kids, I think.
Not to mention those in Flanders, now. Unfortunately, Riverhead’s Little League isn’t the only victim of a society in which people are generally less engaged in social activities (for more details, check out Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone”). Former Flanders Little League president Wayne Ford helped coach three teams in 2013 before the league finally merged with Riverhead last spring due to a lack of interest — from kids and adults alike. This spring, Shoreham-Wading River Little League folded into the North Shore Little League. The Riverhead men’s softball league can’t field enough teams for a league this upcoming summer. Both team and individual sports activities are trending downward nationwide, according to the Physical Activity Council. People have other things to do, apparently.
Not only that, but to hear it from Tony himself, once he finds someone willing to volunteer in a leadership position, they often realize before long that it’s a thankless role.
“It’s not that the kids make it hard. It’s the parents,” he says.
Ideally, he’d like to see a full board of 10 members. As they say, many hands make light work.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. I know of at least one local parent who’s on the fence about filling in for Tony.
“I don’t want the league to fold on our watch, because people are not getting involved,” he said. “I want to be able to say my kids started and finished in Riverhead Little League, instead of it folding.”
While the league may not crumble, how much help that father will have — if he even decides to step up as president — remains something that parents and coaches throughout the league should consider while watching Saturday’s opening day ceremonies.
Riverhead Little League isn’t falling apart at the seams. But in losing the Sammartanos, it is losing two key players from a lineup that’s already thin. Will any bench players step up to the plate?
Joseph Pinciaro is the managing editor of The Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at [email protected] or 631-298-3200, ext. 238.