The summer high school team is back, while youth participation boons after years of falling numbers

PMG FILE PHOTO - Newberg's American Legion Baseball team is back, with Abby's Pizza stepping up to sponsor the squad once again.

Youth in Newberg have traditionally had access to T-ball, Cal Ripken and JBO baseball teams in the spring, but summer baseball at the high school level has been relatively nonexistent in recent years.

Previous high school coaches cut ties with local sponsor Abby's Pizza and instead joined the Oregon Youth Baseball Association (OYBA), which upset local parents and resulted in a lack of participation among youth in the city.

When Trey Watt was hired as NHS's new varsity coach in October, he sought to re-establish the relationship between Newberg Baseball and Abby's and restructure the youth program to best fit the needs of its athletes.

The program is now a relatively affordable, consistent option for baseball players year-round and the summer team has Abby's as its sponsor.

"My goal coming back was to build that relationship back with Abby's and start our summer baseball back up," Watt said. "We started that relationship up again in October when I took the job at Newberg High School and Abby's didn't hesitate at all in supporting and sponsoring us."

Abby's has made it possible for the summer American Legion team to have a bus, new uniforms and a flat $100 registration fee. The team plays a 40-game schedule throughout the summer and faces elite teams from around the state.

Newberg recently faced off against the Portland Barbers – a team comprised of many graduated seniors – in a game at Ron Tonkin Field, home of the minor league Hillsboro Hops.

"We run our Legion like a club team," Watt said. "All of our kids in town play for us in the summer and we have a significant schedule where we play in several tournaments over the summer."

Participation has been significant, too, with roughly 500 Newberg kids playing baseball from the youth level on up to American Legion. That's a lot for a city of Newberg's size and Watt hopes that trend continues into the future.

Newberg can field two teams at the high school, JBO and Cal Ripken levels, which Watt said is right in line with where a school in the 6A classification should be.

A big reason why so many kids are participating in baseball is that they are involved in other sports as well, Watt said, which prevents burnout.

"I think a lot of kids in our town do a phenomenal job of playing multiple sports," Watt said. "When you do that, as you get to high school, you end up figuring out what sports you're best at and you aren't burnt out."

Plenty of kids at the high school level and below do skills training outside of Newberg at places like Portland Baseball Club in Tualatin or Mound Time in Beaverton.

Much of that skills development is available locally, though, Watt said, who added that the high school program's goal is to keep kids local and away from other club teams when it comes to summer ball or travel teams.

"Since the OSAA has changed their rules as far as development, they get that through us," Watt said. "I'm able to work with our kids in the fall, winter, spring and summer, and having full contact with those kids all year is really important."

While the summer season is well underway, baseball players of all ages can sign up for fall ball on Last year, Watt said more than 120 kids signed up for fall ball, which had never happened before.

The program continues to grow outside of the regular high school season and Watt points to the re-establishment of the Legion program – along with a restructured youth program – as a reason for optimism about the future success of Newberg's high school team.

"I think that's been the missing piece," Watt said, referencing the American Legion team. "Our goal as a coaching staff has been to keep kids in Newberg and keep them from going to other clubs.

"When you have three or four different coaches telling you all these different things, you get to the high school season and might not be able to do what your high school coaches want."

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