Municipal Spotlight: Bellingham Youth Baseball Program No Stranger to Success
Kerry Farrell, left, and Linda Peneau call their efforts with Bellingham Youth Baseball Inc. “a labor of love.’’
By KEN HAMWEY, Contributing Writer
No matter what changes or challenges crop up, Bellingham’s youth baseball program continues to thrive. And, it seems like it maintains its success because it follows a formula that emphasizes the welfare of families, the community, and its youthful competitors.
Incorporated 33 years ago in 1989 as Bellingham Youth Baseball, Inc., the organization currently has 460 participants competing for 39 teams at eight levels.
“In previous years, we’ve surpassed 560 participants,’’ said Kerry Farrell, the organization’s president. “We’ve had success because we focus on the welfare of the community, we keep communication open with families, and we have many parents who volunteer. And, we’ve been able to adjust to challenges, like COVID-19. When changes are made, it’s to benefit the community.’’
BYBI has also adapted effectively given the variety of options youths currently have — like other sports, multiple activities and club (AAU) baseball.
Playing all of its games in one centralized location on Harpin Street, BYBI utilizes five fields — Richardson, Tuttle, Trottier, Roberts and Peneau. “That’s a definite plus” according to Linda Peneau, the BYBI’s treasurer for the last 26 years. “The Harpin Street complex is popular because parents with multiple children can see them all compete,’’ Peneau said. “Younger players can see their older siblings and their peers play and they can visualize themselves in those positions in years to come. Also, the concession stand is available to everyone, no matter what field they’re at.’’ The 67-year-old Peneau runs the concession stand and is in charge of all fund-raising efforts.
The 53-year-old Farrell notes that youth baseball in Bellingham is a social happening. “People can see their friends’ children play and all five venues are safe places to gather.’’
When COVID-19 struck in March, 2020, BYBI was able to adjust and be flexible. “We had to delay the spring season,’’ Farrell said. “Instead of starting in April, we began in June and completed the spring campaign is August. We followed all the rules of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the local Board of Health, and we often conferred with Town Administrator Denis Fraine. The Fall Ball program had an overabundance of kids (250-plus). But, we were one of the few youth sports leagues competing.’’
BYBI schedules activities during all four seasons. The spring games are from April to June; summer camps and tourneys are run in June and July; fall baseball is from September through October; and winter training is scheduled from January to March at Stallbrook Elementary and the High School.
The eight levels that comprise the program include: Li’l Sluggers (age 4 children learn baseball skills); Tee-Ball (ages 5, 6 learn positional skills); Instructional (age 6, 7 learn the competitive nature of baseball); Junior League (ages 8, 9 in games with umpires); International League (ages 9-12 in competitive games with playoffs); Majors (ages 10-12 most competitive spring league); Senior League (ages 13-18 playing in-town and out-of-town); and Challengers (special needs children get all types of instruction). “The Challengers level helps special needs kids with social skills and interaction,’’ Farrell said. “The assistants in this program are ‘base buddies’ comprised of current BYBI players and others at the high school level.’’
The 21-member Board of Directors, which includes the Executive Board made up of Farrell (President), Doug Houston (Vice President), Sheila Elliott (Secretary), and Peneau (Treasurer), along with the coaches and assistant coaches are all volunteers and not monetarily compensated for their time and efforts. However, BYBI has a youth umpire leadership program and those participating (13-year-olds and up) are paid per game. They train for six weeks and they umpire games for players 8-12 years old.
While the Parks Department cuts the grass at all fields, renovations and field improvements are the responsibility of BYBI. “We add sod, fix fences and batting cages, paint and maintain the concession building, upgrade and maintain fields utilizing our own field equipment for the base paths’’ said Farrell and Peneau. “When it comes to fund-raising, we have a huge support group — sponsors pay for signs and support teams and fund-raising events.’’
A key cog for BYBI is Anthony Maiorano, the field maintenance manager. A top-notch groundskeeper, he’s been a Bellingham resident for 19 years and has served in the youth program since 2015. Maiorano previously was a groundskeeper for Rutgers University and head groundskeeper for the Newark North Bears, a minor league baseball team. “Anthony is very caring and he strives to keep all our fields in terrific condition,’’ Peneau said.
BYBI holds an annual meeting to summarize current year accomplishments and challenges and to vote in a new Board of Directors. The players are honored in June with playoffs when championship teams are celebrated with trophies given to champions and runners-up of each league. A Field Day is held for the lower leagues and the Challengers, and a Home-run Derby for other leagues.
Farrell and Peneau, who’ve served the organization faithfully and passionately, have children who have benefited from BYBI.
Both women call their time on Harpin Street a labor of love. “We do it for the kids,’’ they said. “We like seeing the interaction of youths, and for families the program is a social outlet. We do this because life is all about giving back.’’
For more information or to register for summer camp or fall ball, go to www.Bellinghamyouthbaseball.com.