In an effort to keep players in the city’s American Legion Baseball programs, Sweeney Post athletics director Paul Lemire this week announced the formation of a Junior Legion team for the upcoming season. Sweeney Post, which will compete in District A, becomes the state’s 24th Junior Legion team.
Manchester has never had a team participate in Junior Legion, which is open to players ages 13-17. The reason: Manchester’s long history of Babe Ruth League baseball for players 15 and younger.
Out of deference to the Babe Ruth League folks, Lemire is opening the Sweeney Junior Legion program citywide only to players ages 15-17 and encouraging 15-year-olds to stick with Babe Ruth ball.
“My intention of starting a Junior Legion program was never to eliminate the Manchester Babe Ruth League,” Lemire said.
Upon hearing that from Lemire, Gary Ulbin, the city Babe Ruth League’s president, breathed a sign of relief.
“After talking with Paul, I’m fine with it,” Ulbin said of the Junior Legion startup. “We’ve always had a gentlemen’s agreement that Legion baseball wouldn’t touch our 15-year-old players. Right now, numbers are down across the board in the city. Little League, Babe Ruth and American Legion are not getting many kids to register for their programs. It’s affecting everyone.”
Manchester Babe Ruth last summer had only enough 13-year-old players to field three teams and had to schedule games with Bow to expand its regular-season schedule. Ulbin said that unless he sees a spike in registration this season, he may have to eliminate the 13’s league.
“We’ll just go back to having eight teams, filling rosters with players ages 13 to 15,” said Ulbin. “Right now, I’m hoping that won’t be the case. We’re going to announce registration dates soon, and hopefully we’ll get a strong turnout.”
After hosting the Babe Ruth Baseball New England Regional for 13-year-olds last season, Manchester is preparing to host the regional for 15’s this summer at Gill Stadium.
Sweeney Post had enrollment problems of its own last year, as only 14 players tried out. The suspension of the team representing the city’s Post 79 should help Sweeney this year, as high school players from former Post 79 feeders Memorial and Trinity are now eligible to play for Sweeney.
The city’s other American Legion post, Jutras, is returning to action this summer, but its status was uncertain when Lemire came up with the plan for a Junior Legion team.
“At the time I proposed starting a Junior Legion program to our state association last November, we were the only (Senior) Legion program left in the city,” Lemire said. “We knew Post 79 was going to be suspended and Jutras didn’t have a team last summer. I started thinking that with one Legion team left in the city, we were going to start losing kids who want to play Legion ball to another organization. So starting a junior team makes sure the city kids remain in Legion baseball.”
Lemire said former Memorial High assistant Ernie Yerrington will coach the Junior Legion program, with former Memorial and Sweeney player Nick Koravos assisting Yerrington and Paul Boucher as the team’s business manager. The team will play its home games at Gill Stadium.
To raise money for the program, Sweeney Post will conduct a meat raffle on Friday from 6-7:30 p.m.
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TWO CITY high school varsities still need a head coach for the spring season: boys’ tennis at Memorial and boys’ lacrosse at West.
Applicants are required to apply online through the school district’s Human Resources Department at www.mansd.org. There is no deadline; applications will be accepted until the positions are filled.
For more information, contact city athletics director Chris Donovan at 624-6300, ext. 160, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“City Sports” is published Saturdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email staff reporter John Habib @email@example.com.