By Tanya Ishikawa
When elementary and middle school students in Ouray County want to play a team sport, there’s no one organization for parents to contact. Elementary schoolers can play basketball through the Voyager Youth Program, while middle school basketball players join a school-run team. Soccer players join the nonprofit Ouray County Soccer Association. Other team sports like football or lacrosse are not offered by any local entity, so some players join the Montrose Recreation District and commute to practices and games.
Baseball teams for these ages, generally 6 to 14 year olds, have been organized off and on throughout the years, depending on the success of parent volunteers. If they can gather enough team members for one or more age categories through grassroots, word-of-mouth style promotion, if they can get parents to commit to volunteer coaching for six to ten hours a week, and if they can convince local park owners to get ball fields repaired and maintained, then their children can enjoy a two-month baseball season.
This summer, with assistance from the City of Ouray and the Montrose Recreation District, parent volunteers were successful in creating five baseball teams, who are practicing and competing in games from late May to mid-July. The 50 players, including boys and girls, range from 4 to 12 years old. Parents and coaches are hoping their momentum will grow into a more established program in years to come.
“We wanted our children to play baseball, but Montrose is so far away for parents to go for practices and games almost every week night,” said Kristine Coughlin, a parent coordinator for the baseball teams this year and last.
The teams are all registered with the Montrose Recreation District, so they can get on that league’s game schedule. But, they practice at Smoky Joe Wood Field at Fellin Park in Ouray, thanks to the generous cooperation of the city staff.
In past years, when Ouray County baseball teams were organized, they practiced at the old sports field in Ridgway, co-owned by that school district and the county. It was always up to parents to mow and maintain the field.
With the use of Fellin Park this summer, the teams are also able to host a couple home games against youth of Naturita, Norwood, Nucla, and Uravan. The city installed new benches in the dugout areas of the field, and resurfaced the infield.
“Having our practices in the county really boosted our numbers,” said TJ Burr, who is head coach for the 7 and 8 year olds as well as a father to a 10-year-old player. “I think we need a baseball nonprofit or a recreation district. I live in Ridgway and we need some more sports opportunities. It’s a lot to organize for parents.”
Three parents who are business owners sponsored the teams’ jerseys, and one parent bought their baseball hats this summer. The Montrose Recreation District is providing the bats, helmets, balls, pitching machine, and a T-post for T-ball.
Burr, who grew up playing sports every season, including baseball, explained, “It’s great. It feels right being outside in the summer. The kids are so excited, too. They have lots of energy and enthusiasm. The players who started last year have more confidence.”
With about 40 of this year’s 50 players from Ridgway, the teams are hoping to get one of the town’s baseball fields back in shape for play. The old school/county field has deteriorated to the point that it can’t be used without major improvements, but the property itself has been under consideration for a teacher housing development or other uses.
The Athletic Fields at Solar Ranch have a baseball backstop and unmaintained infield area, which could be used if the town government would agree to maintain it. A group of parents plan to attend the June 12 town council meeting to ask for cooperation on reclaiming one of the town’s baseball fields.
Not only would it be a more convenient location for families, but it would be a more suitable size for high school games. Smoky Joe Wood Field is not big enough to accommodate high school baseball.
“We are trying to create a bigger movement — look at a bigger picture, and hopefully 1) get a high school baseball team up and going again in the next few years, 2) get a baseball field in Ridgway, and 3) start a movement to have one or both towns, or the county, establish an actual recreation district. Especially with the Town of Ridgway population (lots of young families), it is time for us to have this!” said Coughlin.
The teams’ next games are on June 10 at 5 p.m. at Smoky Joe Wood Field in Fellin Park.