PORT RICHEY — With geographic boundaries limiting where his son could play baseball, Fred Smith decided to break off from the group that has organized baseball games for youth since the late 1930s.
The parents of a lot of other Little League players decided to tag along.
With no money, and just the love of the sport keeping them going, Smith and other volunteers formed the Pasco Hernando PONY Baseball & Softball League, which hopes to gets its first round of organized games off the ground in January 2014.
Smith, vice president for the newly formed group, said many parents of Little League players were unhappy with recent rule changes and the one issue that was difficult to get around — geography.
Much in the same way that students are assigned schools based on their address, Little League players are confined to participate on specific teams or fields. This also limits the number of teams they can compete against, Smith said.
“We are able to make up our own location rules,” Smith said. “With PONY, there are no boundaries. You can play anybody anywhere if they want to play. We have a wider area in which we can play and we are not restricted to a small area of home to register kids, like Little League is.”
“With the Pony League, you’re not in one district,” added Treasurer Connie Milliken. “I can go to the other side of town and play if I feel like traveling there.”
The new league is the result of a partnership with the nonprofit Tampa Bay Velocity, one of the largest softball club organizations in the nation. The PONY part comes from “Protect Our Nation’s Youth,” an international program that started in the 1950s to expand youth softball and baseball programs throughout the world, and help participants with World Series and travel costs.
The league plans to play home games at the Elsie Logan Memorial Park in Spring Hill, but is open to playing at fields throughout Pasco and Hernando counties. Several fundraisers have been organized to raise money for new equipment, uniforms and paid umpires, which Smith said he hopes will help parents to relax and enjoy watching their children play instead of worrying about umpire responsibilities.
They’re also looking for volunteers for the concession stand to free up parents to cheer on their little athletes.
So far, they’re only a couple thousand into what they estimate will be $35,000 to get the league up and running. The next fundraiser is a fall festival in the parking lot of the USA Flea Market at 11721 U.S. 19, Port Richey, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Nov. 23. Tickets, which are free, will get you in to enjoy raffles, food and craft vendors, bounce houses and discounted go-kart racing.
Renting a vendor booth at the festival will cost $35.
PONY leagues are separated into teams by age ranges and also include a “Champions” division for special needs players up to the age of 23. Leagues are governed by the rules of Major League Baseball and PONY baseball rules and regulations, which contain exceptions deemed necessary for youth sports.
Pasco Hernando PONY Baseball & Softball League is insured and is looking for players, coaches and other volunteers who are ready to help make the team a success in the spring. Those interested can contact the league at email@example.com.
“We can use all the help we can get,” Smith said.