SPOKESMAN PHOTO: ANDREW KILSTROM - Wilsonville's 'Championship Field' at Inza R. Wood Middle School is the crown jewel of this year's fundraising efforts, which included nearly $90,000 in funds.The fireworks seen in the sky throughout Wilsonville this past Fourth of July weekend weren’t just for the celebration of our nation’s independence. The colorful explosions marked a momentous occasion for Wilsonville Little League, too.

Not only did the Intermediate 50/70 Oregon District Four Tournament held at Inza R. Wood Middle School serve as a chance for Wilsonville 12- and 13-year-olds to advance to the regional stage of the Little League Championships, but it marked the start of a new era in Wilsonville youth baseball with the unveiling of the league’s “Championship Field” Saturday, July 2.

The pristine playing surface, complete with a state-of-the-art scoreboard, new dugouts and comfortable bleachers, was the result of a year-long effort that included many members of the community raising close to $90,000. The project started last summer when the current Little League Board of Directors decided a change was in order.

Wilsonville youth baseball belonged to the Junior Baseball Organization (JBO) at the time, but issues of player safety and fairness were becoming areas of increasing concern for coaches and parents. Of particular worry were the rules on pitching — which included an innings restriction instead of pitch counts for young ball players — as well as the division breakdown that created all-star teams and in turn prohibited the growth of certain players.

“The biggest thing was kids’ safety,” says John Carter, Wilsonville Little League president. “We believe that the first and foremost thing is providing an environment that allows positive competitive and recreation experiences. We have 247 kids in this program — you need to be able to have an experience for all of them, the same experience for all of them. Because you want all 247 kids to come back and play the next year regardless of their skill level, and with JBO we lost a lot of that.”

Carter and other members of the board spent months researching other league options, particularly Little League and Cal Ripken before deciding to choose the former over the latter. The decision wasn’t easy, and some Wilsonville families still compete in JBO, but the switch made the most sense for the greater community in the end.SPOKESMAN PHOTO: ANDREW KILSTROM - West Linn-Wilsonville School District Superintendent Kathy Ludwig celebrates the ribbon cutting of the Championship Field.

“We considered them all but ultimately, especially after talking with (Wilsonville High head baseball coach Bryn Card) we felt like Little League was the right choice,” says Vice President of Minors and Majors Kevin Larson. “We had the feeling that we needed a well and nationally supported thing to follow, and JBO, the bylaws and things, seemed to be a bit outdated and convoluted.”

The change provides many perks, the most obvious being brand recognition. Every single Little Leaguer has watched the Little League World Series on ESPN at some point and dreamt of making it to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where the best teams in the world compete for supremacy every summer.

“There are quite a few divisions and everyone has a chance to be picked for all stars,” says Sam Sumner, a Little League coach. “It’s also just so much more recognized than other leagues. All of our teams are modeled after Major League teams, like the Dodgers, the Giants, the Astros. It’s just an easier brand to recognize.”

But with the decision came the need for immediate action, too, as the Wilsonville organization decided it wanted to dramatically improve and increase its facilities to make the transition a successful one. Wilsonville Little League immediately got to work fundraising, reaching out to local businesses with instant success. Local businesses like Mercedes-Benz of Wilsonville and The Oregon Community Foundation pitched in upwards of $10,000 apiece, while countless others like The Green Group, Albertsons and Therapeutic Associates donated thousands of dollars to the construction of new fields.SPOKESMAN PHOTO: ANDREW KILSTROM - Wilsonville Little Leaguers await the first game of the Intermediate 50/70 Oregon District Four Tournament Saturday, July 2.

Wilsonville Little League Vice President of Fundraising Jeremy Doblie, meanwhile, got to work setting players up with a cookie dough fundraiser that led to $14,000 in additional funds earlier this winter. Community members across Wilsonville helped in their own ways, too, like Crowley Landscape, which began the process of creating three new fields at Boones Ferry Primary and Inza R. Wood Middle School.

“By the end we were able to add two new fields and two new play areas at Boones Ferry, and thanks to the (West Linn-Wilsonville) School District we were able to make them ADA accessible,” Carter says. “So it goes beyond baseball. We were able to add more to this community. That’s what it’s all about.”

Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp and City Councilor Scott Starr participated in the July 2 ribbon cutting alongside WL-WV Superintendent Kathy Ludwig and Deputy Superintendent Barb Soisson. And when former Oregon State Beaver and Houston Astro Joe Messman threw out the first pitch it signaled more than the start of a Little League baseball game. It meant the realization of months of hard work, increased relevance for Wilsonville in the greater baseball landscape and most important of all future opportunities for kids to play America’s pastime.

“I coached a lot of games on this field and it didn’t look like this ... this is beautiful,” Starr says. “There’s a lot of people that act like ‘Well, someone else will do it.’ These people, they stood up and did it.”

“I just think it sort of raises the visibility in the broader sports community and says Wilsonville is here and going to do things. It brings people into the community, it brings business in, and I think it’s just positive across the board,” Knapp says. “I think it really says something about the community that we want to support these facilities and the people that use them. It shows that Wilsonville is full of people to pay attention to.”SPOKESMAN PHOTO: ANDREW KILSTROM - A Corvallis Little Leaguer fires a throw to first before the Championship Field's inagaural game.

Wilsonville fell a game short of advancing to regionals, falling valiantly to Grants Pass in the deciding championship game July 6. But while it was the last game of the season it certainly won’t be the last game for Wilsonville Little League, as the organization is only just getting started. Carter admits there is more work to be done, but for now players, coaches and community members throughout the league can appreciate how far they’ve come from a year ago.

“We’ve got a lot to do, our fields aren’t perfect and our next goal we want to accomplish is there’s no 90-foot field for older kids to play on,” Carter says about building a high-school sized field for 13- and 14-year olds. “One of our biggest goals is to find a 1 to 3-acre piece of land to build a field and indoor practice facility on to use for other sports, multiple sports. Wilsonville youth sports has committed to help us with that, so I think we’ll be able to get something done at some point.”

Contact Andrew Kilstrom at 503-636-1281 ext. 112 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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