Get ready, Madras — the Little League All-Stars are coming back to town.
The Oregon District 5 Little League All-Stars Tournament will be played in Madras later this month, with games taking place at both Juniper Hills Park and Madras High School. The action begins with opening ceremonies at the MHS football field on Friday, June 24, with games being played between Saturday, June 25, and Friday, July 1.
In total, 42 different teams from nine areas will be in attendance for the All-Stars district tournament. There will be four age groups represented in baseball, and three in softball. The winners from each division will advance to the Little League state tournament later in the summer.
The four divisions include the minors, which are split into two age groups, as well as the majors and the juniors. The minors are divided into younger (8-11 years) and older (9-11) groups, and the majors (9-12) and juniors (12-14) leagues consist of older, more experienced players. The communities represented in the tournament include: Bend (North); Bend (South); Crook County; Hood River Valley; Jefferson County; Redmond; Sisters; The Dalles; and Warm Springs Nation.
The juniors baseball games will be played at Madras High School, while the remaining games will take place at Juniper Hills Park in East Madras.
Before hosting those tournament games at Juniper Hills, though, the fields needed a facelift.
If you seed it, they will come
After a long period of drought and disuse, the baseball fields — which were built 25 years ago with the hopes of drawing events like the Little All-Stars Tournament — were in desperate need of love.
A farmer by day and a little league coach by night, Rob Galyen was dismayed by what he saw when the teams first reported to Juniper Hills for practice earlier this spring. Dead grass and hard grounds made the fields not just unsightly, he said, but basically unusable.
"I witnessed firsthand the despair of the conditions the fields were in," remarked Galyen, who works at Deschutes Basin Farms in addition to coaching his son's baseball team. "They were just unplayable surfaces."
Those early days in April spurred Galyen to search for a solution. He knew that he could handle getting the fields reseeded based on his own expertise and connections, but there was another massive piece of the equation: water.
"Water's always been an issue up there," Galyen noted of the park.
Galyen reached out to Jefferson County administrator Jeff Rasmussen to discuss the playing fields — note that Juniper Hills is a county park, not a city one — so the county held the key to the water that would be needed to irrigate the field.
For years, Juniper Hills Park was watered strictly by flow from the North Unit Irrigation District; however, the county was able to start pumping Deschutes Valley water at Juniper Hills starting last year, which allowed for the earmarking of water specifically for irrigating the park in East Madras.
Galyen provided a direct use for those waters, and with rumors already abuzz that the All-Stars district tournament was coming to town, Rasmussen was happy to greenlight the project — especially once Galyen noted that he could get the seed and equipment donated at no cost to Jefferson County.
On the other end of those donations were Central Oregon Seed Inc., Central Oregon Agronomy and Deschutes Basin Farms.
"My ace in the hole was Central Oregon Seed and Central Oregon Agronomy," said Galyen. "They've always been strong proponents of the youth programs and education of Jefferson County. They ended up donating all the seed."
With seed from COSI and Central Oregon Agronomy, equipment from his own Deschutes Basin Farms, and an extra set of hands from Jacob and _______ Struck, Galyen had one final box to check before going to work.
He wanted to check with Jefferson County Little League to make sure that they were OK with the plan to fix up the fields with the tournament on the horizon. Not surprisingly, the JCLL was game.
"Before the tournament, it was one of the main priorities," said JCLL president Will O'Daniel of making improvements to the fields. "You definitely want the fields to look as professional as possible when you have all these other towns coming in, to best represent what Jefferson County can be."
With all the necessary pieces in place, the work finally began. Galyen said that it took "about three or four hours" for them to overseed the playing surfaces.
"It took some coordinating efforts between all people and logistics of the county," he added. "They scalped down all the fields, and then we harrowed and spun on all the seed."
With those efforts out of the way, it remains up to Mother Nature to do her part — with a little help from Jefferson County lead maintenance technician Tim Dahlke.
"Tim, he's been watering like crazy and replacing sprinklers," Galyen noted. "Hopefully things stay the course, and we can get her looking shiny by the time the tournament rolls around."
"It's looking better, and people are noticing."
A bright spot for the community
The improvements to the fields at the park will make the beautiful backdrop of Juniper Hills Park an even more special place for the players — and all the incoming visitors.
The event marks the return of the All-Stars Tournament to Madras for the first time since 2019, and it is a perfect marriage of the community's passion for youth sports and its picturesque playing fields. With the beautification of the park in its final act, the stage is just about set for Jefferson County to take the summer spotlight once again.
"We did it in 2019," recalled O'Daniel, "and we're the only county in District 5 that could accommodate all leagues and divisions based on our field setups."
Using some back-of-the-napkin math, O'Daniel predicts that the weeklong event will bring at least a thousand people into the area. With cost-free admittance to the games for spectators, he expects each of the 42 participating teams — which themselves consist of 10-14 players — to bring a strong contingent of supporters.
"Families and parents are coming and bring (the athletes') siblings most likely," O'Daniel explained. "Might have some grandparents and friends of those families coming in, too. This is probably easily going to be upward of a thousand people."
"The biggest challenge, I'd say, is trying to find volunteers," explained O'Daniel. "Volunteers are what's needed. Getting people to help and getting the community involved is a challenge in itself, but the people who have stepped up and come out have been tremendous."
That volunteering goes both ways, too. O'Daniel added that the Little League has been helping to clean and maintain the bathrooms at Juniper Hills Park, as the county is down a maintenance worker at the moment. It will be all hands on deck, though, to keep Juniper Hills operating smoothly and looking presentable with hundreds of visitors coming in and out all week long.
Until then, though, we await those two words that evoke an unmistakable sense of summer.
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