Louie Lampron is 76. Jack Wescott is 12. On a recent warm spring evening, both were at one of their favorite places: the Little League baseball fields in Westbrook.

Lampron has volunteered as a coach or umpire since 1984 and is the league’s director of umpires. Wescott is a strong-armed, hustling catcher for the Kiwanis squad. They love the sport and believe in what Little League has provided their hometown since 1951.

And they both wonder, why aren’t more kids playing baseball? Where have all the Little Leaguers gone?

“Back in the heyday of the 1980s, ’90s, we had 10 majors teams. Now we have two,” Lampron said.

Wescott, a sixth grader at Westbrook Middle School, said he and his friends had to recruit other kids just so Westbrook could have enough players for a second team.

“Some of them think it’s a slow sport and stuff,” Wescott said. “I tell them you can play Little League, and it’s really fun, and we could maybe be on the same team, and we could all play.”


As recently as 2005, Westbrook still had enough players to have two separate leagues. That was the year Westbrook’s all-star team in the 10- to 12-year-old “majors” division made it all the way to the nationally televised Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Westbrook’s 2005 squad remains the last team from Maine to qualify for the World Series.

No one had to convince Sean Murphy and his friends on the 2005 New England championship team to play baseball. Little League was the best game in town.

“The reason we were so good was the city championship and the city league was so competitive,” said Murphy, now 30. “Every night, you knew you were going to get a fun game.”

Little League baseball is an iconic American tradition, the granddaddy of the youth sports movement. But across southern Maine, the number of leagues playing Little League baseball has decreased by 34% since 2011, reflecting a national trend.  Many kids have been lured away by faster-paced sports like lacrosse, soccer, basketball and ice hockey – or they are opting out of organized sports completely.

Since 2011, Maine Little League District 6 (Cumberland and Oxford counties) has dropped from 18 baseball leagues to 13. District 4 (York County) has gone from 17 leagues to 10.

“The city of Portland itself used to have eight separate Little Leagues 25 years ago. They had three up until just four, five years ago,” said Bill Finley, 69, the District 6 administrator. “Now there’s only one league in Portland.”


Steve Schwartz has been a volunteer umpire in Portland for 18 years. Schwartz said when he was playing Little League in the early 1970s, “Portland had nine leagues with a total of 60 majors teams.”

With 12 players per team, that meant 720 kids between the ages of 10 and 12 playing Little League baseball in the city. This year, 55 players are spread out across Portland’s five majors teams, according to league president Mark Peltier.

In 2017, South Portland had two leagues and seven majors teams, and South Portland American’s all-star team came one win shy of qualifying for the Little League World Series. Richie Gilboy, a senior at South Portland High, is one of five players from that all-star team now playing for the school’s varsity team, which won the 2021 Class A state championship and this year is among the top teams in Maine. As a Little Leaguer, Gilboy picked up the nickname “Big Daddy Hacks” because he told ESPN those were the type of swings he took prior to the New England Regional in Bristol, Connecticut.

Richie Gilboy high-fives his coaches as the South Portland American All Star Little League team was honored before a Portland Sea Dogs game at Hadlock Field in August 2017. Gilboy, then 12, embraced the nickname, “Big Daddy Hacks.” Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

“That was the most fun baseball I ever played. Easily,” Gilboy said. “It’s where we all grew up with each other and started making those memories.”

South Portland combined its leagues in 2020. This season, South Portland has just three majors teams.

“It’s kind of sad, to be honest,” Gilboy said. “I know I grew up just loving baseball. It’s just kind of sad to see the numbers go down, but I hope we get a generation that’s inspired and wants to keep going with sports and keep playing baseball especially.”



Little League was formed by Carl E. Stotz in 1939 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, as an all-volunteer organization designed to give boys the chance to play the game they already loved on an age-appropriate field with uniforms, coaches, umpires and a big-league feel. Little League became the model for youth sports organizations and is still the world’s largest organized youth sports association.

However, worldwide participation in Little League is down 30% over the past 20 years from 2.6 million players to approximately 2 million in 2022, according to Brian McClintock, senior communications executive for Little League International. That includes Little League Softball, created for girls in 1974; a program for adaptive sports started in 1989; and age divisions from 4 to 16 years old. Baseball accounts for 80% of all Little League participation.

Bibeau & Company batter Levi DeRoche-Rancourt comes to bat during a Portland Little League game this month. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Little League also competes with other youth baseball organizations, in particular Cal Ripken Baseball, which is the 4- to 12-year-old division of Babe Ruth Baseball. Several towns in Maine have switched from Little League to Cal Ripken affiliation over the past 20-25 years, especially in central Maine. Waterville was host to the 2022 Cal Ripken 12-and-under World Series.

However, overall baseball participation among 6- to 12-year-olds is down. In 2008, 16.5% of kids ages 6 to 12 in America played baseball on a regular basis, according to the annual Sports & Fitness Industry Association survey. By 2016, that figure was down to 12.4% – a loss of 800,000 participants. A growth period from 2017-19 was negated when the pandemic hit in 2020. Baseball participation was back to 12.6% in 2021.

In general, fewer boys are playing organized sports. The Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program’s annual Project Play report shows dramatically fewer boys aged 6 to 12 are playing sports compared to 10 years ago. In 2012, 49.1% of boys in that age range played a sport on a regular basis. By 2019, it dropped to 39.1%. In 2021, when sports returned to more normal operations after the onset of the pandemic, 38% of boys 6 to 12 were playing a sport on a regular basis.


With fewer players and fewer teams, regular season Little League games between teams in neighboring towns have become a necessity for most leagues. In the traditional Little League model, teams play games against others in their community.

“We partner with Gray-New Gloucester, Windham, Gorham and Bonny Eagle, and frankly we’re even doing that with the AAA level (played by 9- and 10-year-olds),” said Westbrook Little League President Mark Sardella.

Elias Peltier, starting pitcher for the Portland Little League Bibeau & Company team, points to an infield fly ball. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Portland (five teams) and Falmouth (six teams) play only teams in their own community. Scarborough (six teams) could go alone but plays intertown games to help neighbors in South Portland and Cape Elizabeth.

“We might be the anomaly,” said Scarborough Little League President Dennis Meehan. “We have higher enrollment than we had pre-pandemic. But we used to have two leagues in town. So the story is not wrong about participation declining.”


The sport’s largest stage, Major League Baseball, has been wrestling with declining attendance and television ratings for at least a decade. When attendance figures in 2022 came in 4 million less than in 2019, MLB made sweeping changes this season to speed up the game, including the introduction of a pitch clock. Early indications are that the changes are working. The average game time is 2 hours, 36 minutes – about 30 minutes faster than last season. Attendance and TV and streaming ratings are up.


There’s no denying baseball has a slower pace than most youth sports. And, the pitcher versus batter dynamic means failure happens frequently and publicly.

“The game is hard and the game is meant to be failed,” said Murphy, the former Westbrook Little League star. “Kids live in this instant gratification system or they can get on a video game and get this huge dopamine rush.”

The for-profit world of youth sports – travel teams with nearly year-round programming – siphons prospective baseball players.

Fans watch a Portland Little League majors game at Loring Memorial Field this month. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Josh Cook, 11, a sixth grader at Portland’s Lincoln Middle School and a member of the Portland VFW Little League team, said “there are only 12 kids in my school that play baseball.”

“It’s mostly other sports. Soccer. Basically, soccer is everyone’s No. 1 sport,” he said.

The vast majority of kids who play travel team baseball still play Little League through age 12. But leagues know they must accommodate the travel ball schedules, where games are typically played on the weekend.


“We definitely want kids to do both. I think you need those stronger players in the program – they bring the quality of play up for everyone,” said Falmouth Little League President Jeff Bowden, 48. “But you have to design the games around it. No games on weekends.”

On a Friday night in May, Portland’s VFW Post 6859 squad faced Bibeau & Company at Loring Field in Payson Park. Both teams’ managers said before the game their best pitchers would be saving their arms for weekend travel games.

The result was what many might remember from their own youth baseball days: a game filled with walks, passed balls, wild pitches and plodding action. After an hour, the game was still in the second inning.

Easton Buck reacts after reaching third base during a Portland Little League game. There are 55 players spread across Portland’s five majors Little League teams this season, down dramatically from 50 years ago. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The kids didn’t seem to mind. They had both sunflower seeds and a bucket of Double Bubble gum on the bench and walk-up music on the public-address speaker.

A third Portland Little League team was in the nearby batting cage, hitting soft-toss pitches from their coaches into the mesh netting, practicing their craft and catching glances of their friends’ game.

James Minervino, 11, a fifth grader at St. Brigid School in Portland, said his friends who don’t play Little League often point to the pace of play or that they’re afraid of getting hit by the ball. He believes they are missing out.


“What’s cool about it is just getting to have it be competitive and fun for all,” Minervino said. “But you also get to know kids from the other schools, too.”

And as players improve, the game becomes even more fun, Minervino said. Last season he was on Portland’s 9- and 10-year-old all-star team that won the state title.

“Just hitting and fielding. After doing all-stars last year and then playing again this year, I’m so much better than last year,” Minervino said.


Getting kids – and their parents – to commit to T-ball in the 4- to 6-year-old range is not the issue. Westbrook has eight T-ball teams. Scarborough has 12. In Portland, there are 20 T-ball teams.

Keeping kids playing is the challenge.


“We have a large problem in terms of participation rate, or the glaring lack thereof, so for me player engagement is one of my foremost priorities,” said Sardella, Westbrook’s first-year league president. “I want the boys and girls to love the game, love coming to the field, and see them excited to stay with it.”

Ages 11 and 12 would seem to be the best years to play Little League. Most players have grown into the smaller 60-foot base paths on the diamond. Teams have at least a pitcher or two who can throw strikes. Catchers can throw out baserunners. Fly balls are actually caught (sometimes).

Colman Connelly catches a fly ball during a Portland Little League game. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

But the average age kids quit playing baseball is 10½, according to Sports & Fitness Industry Association data.

In the press box behind home plate of Westbrook’s lighted Volunteer Field, public announcer Matt Tibbetts, 44, and Phil McCormick, 49, have their theories why fewer kids play baseball.

“Demographics, other sports and video games,” Tibbetts ticks off between his classic, no-nonsense player introductions.

“You need attention span in an era when we don’t have attention span,” McCormick said as he preps the next batter’s walk-up music.



Greater Portland has much more racial diversity than 20 years ago. New Mainers from Africa often have little or no cultural link to America’s Pastime. The all-volunteer Little League organizers have limited resources to translate promotional material into other languages.

“There are a lot of immigrants coming into town, and they don’t know anything about baseball or they’re not interested,” said Finley, the District 6 administrator. “We don’t pick up those (African) kids and others who come over. We don’t get any of those kids.”

Westbrook has applied for grants to help fund a “Diversity and Inclusion Strategy,” which would include addressing field maintenance issues, including a recent $200,000 request to the Harold Alfond Foundation, said Westbrook Little League board secretary Julie Natale, who wrote the grant proposal.

Portland Little League President Mark Peltier rakes the infield at Loring Field. Little League officials, coaches and umpires across the country are all volunteers. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Natale said Westbrook’s board believes Little League’s mission of using youth baseball and softball to teach life lessons and build stronger communities “isn’t just for certain kids. It’s for everybody.”

Peltier, the Portland Little League president, said his group knows it gets most of its players from certain elementary schools and is working to increase outreach to the city’s other schools.


Peltier said there are about 10 new Mainers from African, Middle Eastern and Central American countries in Portland Little League this year, most at the AA and AAA level. “Not a ton, but more than in past years. Hopefully, we can continue to grow that number,” he said.

Little League may not be as omnipresent as it once was, but it still resonates in a community.

Peltier saw that last summer during Portland’s 9-10 all-stars’ run to the state championship. In less than a week, a GoFundMe page and other donations raised $15,000 to help defray expenses for the team and families to attend the regional tournament in Cranston, Rhode Island.

“It was heartening,” said Peltier, 45. “I would love to see what Little League looked like in Portland in 1970, but it was good to know that enthusiasm was still there. We had a lot of kids – the AA kids, softball kids, older kids not on the team – coming to games and supporting the team.”

Little League players from the Bibeau & Company and the VFW Post 6859 teams shake hands after a game at Loring Field at Portland’s Payson Park this month. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Saco Little League was the 2022 District 4 11-12 champions. Its president, Kris Stryker, said success maybe adds a few players to league rosters, but Little League’s greatest asset is its community-based approach to youth sports.

“With all the travel and AAU-type programs that are there to make money or develop kids for college or pro aspirations, you can still go out and have fun and not be out for blood,” he said.

Like Sean Murphy and the Westbrook all-stars in 2005, or Richie Gilboy and the 2017 South Portland American team, current players know they are making memories that will last. Players like Wescott, the strong-armed catcher on Westbrook’s Kiwanis squad, said he’s already getting a bit sad when he thinks about how this will be his last season on the smaller diamond.

“I’ll play middle school ball, but I like Little League better. I like it here,” Wescott said.

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