Elijah McDowell (left) and Shawn Medina (right), who are members of the Woonsocket Firefighters team, proudly carry the Woonsocket Little League banner onto Renaud Field as they lead a parade of teams during the leagueâs first Opening Day
ceremonies on Saturday morning. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN
WOONSOCKET â Since last October, Mike St. Germain and dozens of other folks have spent countless hours planning and resourcing the new Woonsocket Little League.
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After all that organizing, those people saw their labor come to fruition during the first-ever WLL Opening Day at Renaud Field.
Because the league â which consists (baseball-wise) of teams that once represented the Bernon and East Woonsocket organizations â now is so large, the board of directors had to schedule the ceremonies for the new home of Woonsocket High baseball.
Those arriving late for the 11 a.m. fete had to walk at least a half-mile to the well-groomed Renaud infield due to the amount of cars parked all around the neighborhood. One they got there, however, they witnessed a colorful yet simple display of togetherness, that supplied following the parade of teams into the park.
âThis was unbelievable!â St. Germain grinned after the ceremony before a few hundred parents, family members and fans packed the bleachers down the first- and third-base lines. âWhat a beautiful day. We had to switch dates from a couple of weeks because of the weather, but we got a perfect day.
âThis is so satisfying,â he added. âBoth leagues have been trying to merge for five or six years now; we just wanted to get more unified. It finally came together; both boards of directors sat down and evaluated the last couple of years, and came to an agreement. That is, together, we could be a stronger program. We just pooled our resources.â
The league now consists of over 500 youngsters on 34 baseball teams in a variety of age categories, not to mention 10 softball squads and three Junior Division (13-15) teams.
âWhat many people donât recognize is what goes into (assembling all the key parts of) a season,â he stated to the crowd. âPlanning this upcoming season started in October, and without the board of directors and several other key volunteers, we wouldnât be here today.â
St. Germain spent his time thanking those directors for their devotion and hard work, among them Kevin McGuire (Vice President of Baseball); Steve Sgambato (Vice President of Softball); Lisa Godfrin (Secretary and Junior Level Representative for the league and also District IV); Ron Masse (Treasurer); Dave Jarrett (Coaching Coordinator); Mike Berube (Safety Officer); Carl Godfrin (Umpire in Chief); Dave Scott (Equipment Manager); Mike Cinquantini (Field Maintenance Coordinator); and Amy Lorusso (Concessions Manager).
There were still others, including the age-group representatives: Steve Thibault (softball); Judy Wynn (Major Division); Willie Houle (Minor Division); Bill Berube (Instructional Division); and Angie Godfrin (T-Ball Division).
He also praised the devotion of Player Agent Kim Sgambato)
âWhat can I say about Kim,â he noted in his speech. âMy job is easy compared to hers. This is her first year âŠ and we all hope itâs not her last. Not many know what a player agent does prior to a season âŠ but she coordinates registrations; registers, tracks and maintains all player records; and coordinates tryouts.
âShe also schedules and manages our player drafts and all player transactions through the season; ensures player placement (on a squad); and sheâs our liaison between players, parents and the league,â he added. âShe made regular (season) schedules for Majors, Minors, Instructional and T-Ball, not to mention the endless e-mails and phone calls she receives.
âKim, your commitment to this league is truly appreciated and should be applauded.â
He also thanked all managers and coaches, the parents and the players involved with the âCookie Doughâ fundraiser, one that collected over $5,000 for uniforms and equipment.
He asked those youngsters who sold those items to step onto the infield dirt to be recognized.
St. Germain mentioned the many city fields wouldnât have been ready for the leagueâs initial games without the generous volunteer work of Ed Lee and Jim Senay; and that the WLLâs strength and conditioning clinics couldnât have occurred if not for Rhode Island Athletic Club President/Owner Mike Reynolds.
Then again, he claimed the league wouldnât be where it is now without the aid of District IV Administrator Ron Lopes.
âI wouldnât be here without my wife, Lisa,â he offered afterward. âI started coaching even before we were married, and this week is our 20th (wedding) anniversary. She deserves a lot of credit; sheâs the one who let me go to the ball fields almost every night to coach.
âSheâs the First Lady of Woonsocket baseball,â he continued. âShe just rolls with the punches, and I donât know how sheâs done it, but sheâs shared me with the sport of baseball.â
Others speaking briefly included Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, Roger Picard and Police Chief Thomas Carey.
âThis merger has been a long time coming,â stated Baldelli-Hunt in her message. âAs President St. Germain said, we are a community that has come together; weâre no longer a community thatâs divided. Weâre strong and weâre active, as this is an important part of growing up. Woonsocket is a very solid community with a lot of strength and perseverance.
âThis is now the home of the varsity baseball team, and weâre examining our (Little League) fields âŠ bringing them closer to the high school campus, (so) keep the spirit, be good sports and weâll see you on the ball fields!â
Ceremony Emcee Tommy Brien recognized former Woonsocket High Athletic Director George Nasuti, who died on Feb. 11 at the tender age of 52. He asked that all players, coaches, parents, families and friends follow his renowned motto: âYou give respect, you get respect.â
When asked about what it took to assemble the cityâs softball program, Steve Sgambato responded, âOh, my God! We took on an incredible amount of work. We were not only busy merging the East Woonsocket and Bernon leagues, but we also had to combine our Little League with North Smithfield.
âWe focused on grouping the girls from Woonsocket with North Smithfield to develop the new Northern Rhode Island Softball League,â he added. âThis allows girls from both (municipalities) to play at a more competitive level.
âThe way it used to be was weâd have, say, seven 11-12 year olds playing on a team, but weâd have to bring four or five 9-10s to complete a team roster. Girls would get intimidated playing with and against older girls, or maybe get turned off with (the sport).
âBy combining with North Smithfield, it allows us to fill each age group with the appropriate age kids. You do that, and teams are going to be more competitive. I think it will create more parity and interest in softball.â
He noted the league now has grown from five to 12 teams in five age categories, including 6-and-under, 7-8, 9-10, 11-12 and 13-16.
âThis turnout was amazing,â Sgambato said. âTo be able to fill a varsity baseball field with all these teams is unbelievable. Last year, we (with the East Woonsocket league) were able to just cover the infield (perimeter at Hartnett Field). I thought then that, âWeâve got to do something.â
âWe not only had declining numbers but declining talent, but not anymore. Just to see this growth again is huge.â