More than 500 kids in the Mechanicsburg area will play under one youth baseball banner this spring.
Upper Allen Baseball Association and Mechanicsburg Little League Association have combined under the UABA name beginning in the 2018 season.
It’s the culmination of more than five years of contemplation and nearly a year of persistent discussions, according to UABA president Doug Marsico and MLLA president Andrew Notarfrancesco.
MLLA, which has been in operation since 1949, according to its website, holds a Little League Baseball charter, but Upper Allen plays under Cal Ripken Baseball. The new association will stay under Cal Ripken, playing majors baseball (ages 11-12) with dimensions of 50 feet to the pitcher’s mound and 70 feet to first base.
Mechanicsburg had seen a drop in participation until about five years ago, Notarfrancesco said. The association has held steady at around 170 players each calendar year, including around 150 during the spring season. UABA’s numbers are around 350, Marsico said, and the combination means more than 500 kids at all age levels under one organization.
“The big impetus behind it is we’ve started to recognize, and we’re really responding to what the kids want,” said Notarfrancesco, whose nephew, Ethan, helped Mechanicsburg to a Pennsylvania State Little League World Series appearance in 2016. “Our kids are going to school together at younger and younger ages within the school district.”
Marsico said the move to 50/70 baseball is also popular with kids of multiple skill levels, and is considered a safer dimension at the majors level than Little League’s 60-foot base path because it allows for more reaction time on hard-hit balls in the infield.
Both presidents — Notarfrancesco was voted the MLLA president in the fall and will serve in the role as Mechanicsburg “winds down our business” in the coming months — said there were no financial concerns that facilitated the joining of the associations. MLLA has an “extremely robust bank account,” Notarfrancesco said. Fees and costs are not expected to change, although the combined money could help in coordinating field upgrades and other expenses that arise.
“What we’re working on now is a plan to try to make some improvements to get those fields where we want them to be,” Marsico said.
The change is not considered a merger, both said. Mechanicsburg Little League Association will simply cease to exist in an unspecified time as players, facilities and other miscellaneous items move to UABA. Little League Baseball will determine what to do with the charter on its own, Notarfrancesco said.
MLLA struggled to field more than a handful of teams in each age bracket in recent years, forcing more than a few “out-of-house” games against teams in neighboring associations. The joint UABA could have as many as 10 teams per age group, allowing for teams to essentially play a double-round robin regular season with few to no out-of-house games, according to Notarfrancesco’s description.
“It’s hard to provide a good experience for an age group with only a few teams,” Marsico said.
It also allows players who see each other in elementary school to play with or against each other on a regular basis.
It increases the odds of fielding two all-star teams per age group, Notarfrancesco said. And the tryout and team selection process before the season starts will remain largely unchanged, as both organizations ran similar models.
There is a transition team consisting of five board members from MLLA and five from UABA that is in charge of coordinating the unification, discussing field improvements and the number of teams.
Upper Allen Township held a community meeting Wednesday to field questions about the joint association. Notarfrancesco said it went well and questions were raised about the Little League charter, sponsors, tryouts and more. He said there were a few sponsorships that both organizations had, creating redundancies to sort out, and a few longtime partners to coordinate with.
Marsico said there will be added coordination with game and practice schedules, uniforms and officials.
The joint association also streamlines baseball in Mechanicsburg through the high school. Now players will go from UABA (ages 5-12) — when asked about the switch to UABA instead of the longer-known Mechanicsburg name, both Notarfrancesco and Marsico said a potential name change is on the list of priorities, but currently not high with more pressing matters to attend to — to Mechanicsburg Area Teener Baseball (ages 13-17), to the high school (in the spring) and Mechanicsburg American Legion (in the summer).
Varsity coach Clay McAllister said he supported the two organizations joining forces and that it’s a discussion he’s heard or been a part of in various ways for nearly 20 years.
“I think for the kids, to all be pulling in the same direction,” he said, “I think it makes sense.”
He also mentioned that Upper Allen also used to have a legion team, which folded about 10 years ago.
“What really matters first is the kids more than anything else,” McAllister said.
Registration for UABA is open until Feb. 11 on upperallenbaseball.org. Teener registration is open until Feb. 28.