Sixty-one years ago, the Coventry Little League was formed.
The Central Coventry Little League was created in 1972.
Both leagues had provided opportunities for thousands of boys and girls from ages 5 to 12 to learn, play and compete in baseball on fields all around the town. But those days of two separate leagues is officially history.
Both leagues have decided to merge into one larger league — the Coventry Little League — with two divisions to represent the town in various tournaments and in Rhode Island Little League postseason playoff action.
So when Opening Day ceremonies begin on Apr. 21 at 9:30 a.m. at the Paine Fields, a total of 520 boys and girls on 43 teams will be ready to pick up the bats, balls and gloves and resume action under a new banner.
News of the merger comes after one of the most successful years in competitive playoff action for both former leagues.
The Coventry Little League 11-year-old All-Star squad won the Rhode Island Little League state title in that age division for the first time ever.
The Central Coventry Little Major Division All-Stars (12-and-under) won the Districts III title for the third year in a row, and advanced to the state championship finals.
“It took a lot of work, a lot of people and a lot of hours, time and energy to make the league come to fruition,” said Paul Fernandes, who would have carried on as Central Coventry Little League president.
“It took a little while to get Little League headquarters to approve everything,” said Mike Madonna, who would have been in his first term this year as (the former) Coventry Little League president.
Instead, Fernandes and Madonna will each serve as co-presidents of the newly-formed league. And the two Boards of Directors of each former league — each 16 members strong — will also combine to run the new league.
“Both Mike and I and both leagues shared the same philosophy for the betterment of the kids anyways,” said Fernandes. “It was a unanimous decision.”
There were also demographic and geographic forces at work. The population has grown slowly and numbers had either declined in both leagues or had leveled off. Lacrosse and other sports and activities were attracting youngsters. And there was one other important factor.
“We looked at the general landscape and saw that there was just one league in every other youth sport in town except for baseball,” Fernandes said. “All of the other sports gave kids a chance to play with their friends. Now friends will get a chance to either play on the same teams or compete against each other in the same leagues and on different fields, too."
The league should be a hit for parents and fans, as well. That was apparent last year in the deep runs in the playoffs by both respective All-Star squads.
“A lot of kids and parents from other leagues were showing up to support each other,” said Madonna.
The league merger seems to be paying dividends already. The new league attracted 70 more players than the expected 450, resulting in a waiting list for the majors.
Now the excitement of playing with and against friends will also extend to the post-season. “We will have an American and National League playoffs and a World Series winner for the league,” said Madonna. And each of the All-Star teams will go on to compete in the district and possibly state levels.
“We are always looking for more volunteers,” added Madonna, citing needs for those who can help in maintaining fields, helping in the concessions stands, raising money and more. "We can use as many as possible.”
For more information go to the league website, www.coventrylittleleague.com.