Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ottawa, Babe Ruth baseball

7/7/2014

Nearly 50 years ago, a young man who was embarking on a career in education, was approached by the then-recreation director, Orlis Cox, a legend in Ottawa, to run the baseball program for the summer.

Gary Kuntz was a baseball enthusiast who had played the sport and was familiar with the Babe Ruth program. When Cox asked him to administer the program for the summer, Kuntz volunteered on the basis that the program would affiliate with Babe Ruth Baseball. A deal was struck, and thus began a long partnership between the youth of Ottawa and a nationally known premier youth program.

Nearly 50 years ago, a young man who was embarking on a career in education, was approached by the then-recreation director, Orlis Cox, a legend in Ottawa, to run the baseball program for the summer.

Gary Kuntz was a baseball enthusiast who had played the sport and was familiar with the Babe Ruth program. When Cox asked him to administer the program for the summer, Kuntz volunteered on the basis that the program would affiliate with Babe Ruth Baseball. A deal was struck, and thus began a long partnership between the youth of Ottawa and a nationally known premier youth program.

Kuntz had a vision for the youngsters of Ottawa, as well as the community of Ottawa, and that vision manifested itself in a very successful organization. The Ottawa Babe Ruth League was a leader in the state of Kansas, and many talented players emerged from this very organized and structured program­ — a program that served as a role model for existing and new leagues entering the Babe Ruth program throughout the state.

Through the years, Ottawa experienced success measured by strong competition in state and regional tournaments in the various age divisions, and by the number of tournaments they won, advancing to the next level. Players who participated in the Ottawa program were recognized on the field for their participation, effort, baseball skills and leadership qualities. In each age division, countless players were rewarded by being named as an MVP, outstanding player, or by a special award given to only one player in each state tournament for outstanding attitude, hustle and pride. During those years, 15 Ottawa players and one coach were named to the “Classic” team, a team for 15 year-old players, recognizing and rewarding their talent and model behavior on the field. Only 36 players from across the state are given this prestigious opportunity each year. Given the number of players participating in our program, this was a great achievement for the Ottawa league.

Suddenly, the Ottawa Babe Ruth program stopped.

At the present time, other teams in Kansas are participating in their district tournaments and vying for the chance to advance to one of our nine state tournaments and showcase their local talent. Communities hosting the district and state tournaments are showing pride in their towns, demonstrating to visitors at their tournaments what determined and dedicated volunteers can accomplish.

What are the young people of Ottawa doing at this time? Are they preparing to compete in a post-season tournament, or has their season come to a close? If they are continuing to play, what is the cost to the players and fans? Do the teams have to pay an entry fee to compete, and can any team participate if they come up with enough money?

In the Babe Ruth program, teams earn their way to the next level by winning — they can’t buy their way into a tournament. And if they advance, there is no entry fee because the host team pays a standard fee and, after their expenses, the sponsoring league profits from the residual tournament income. Ottawa has hosted many tournaments in the past, both on the district and state levels, and they always proved themselves to be worthy hosts.

When the decision was made to not participate in Babe Ruth this year, were the players given an opportunity to express their desires or provide input relevant to the change? Or, was it a decision made by adults, perhaps some with ulterior motives like personal or monetary gain? Maybe it was a decision to change just for the sake of change. Whatever the reason, are players, coaches and fans content with the decision?

Hopefully the experience this year will convince many that the change was not in the best interests of the young people and someone with Babe Ruth experience will step forward and be the leader that is necessary to restore a quality program, where the player comes first. Surely, there are former players who are leaders that want to get back on track with the tradition of Babe Ruth Baseball in Ottawa, and are willing to organize and promote this once great league.

Bob Willis,

state commissioner,

Kansas Babe Ruth Leagues, Inc.,

Wellington

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