Little League organizers in Kenai and Soldotna are in the ninth inning and behind in the participant score column.
"It just seems like every year, for the last five or six years, there seems to be less and less kids signing up," said David Gemmell, the president of Kenai Little League.
Five years ago, Kenai Little League had over 500 players. This year, there are only about 200 signed up, although Gemmell expects 50 or 60 more to join.
In Soldotna, Jerry Pate, a member of the board of directors for Soldotna Little League, said the number signed up for this season is 404, down from last year's total of 520.
The drop came even though the Soldotna league dropped its registration fee this year from $45 to $25.
A similar dip in numbers of kids signed up for Little League is a trend playing out across Southcentral Alaska.
At a recent meeting involving Little League teams from the peninsula, Kodiak Island, Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna valleys, a lot of the programs reported dips that were a cause for concern.
"Everybody's always complaining that their numbers are down at this time of the year, but this year they were talking about 20 to 25 percent," Gemmell said. "Usually, they're only talking about 10 percent and they'll get some more people to sign up.
"But with 20 to 25 percent, they were a little more worried."
Gemmell's theory about the decline, at least here on the central peninsula, is that there are more options for kids these days with the Boys and Girls Club summer soccer program and Pop Warner in the early fall.
"We used to have a monopoly," Gemmell said. "Now, with so many things kids can do, I think parents are telling them they can only do one, or two out of three."
Soldotna's Pate said he doesn't have a problem losing kids to other activities.
"Anytime kids are out playing and enjoying themselves, that's good," Pate said.
What the Soldotna board member does not like to see is kids having trouble getting on a team because they are late in realizing the season has started.
"Up here, because the snow lasts as long as it does, a lot of kids don't realize the season starts as soon as the snow is gone," Pate said. "Every year, we have people showing up after the season starts."
The one area that's bucking the current trend is Homer. Deb Germano, the president of Homer Little League, said last year the program's numbers were up a little bit to between 450 and 500 kids.
Germano said the league has not had its big sign-up period yet this year, so it is impossible to give a projection on this year's numbers.
"We've really tried to focus on kids participating," Germano said. "We don't want any kids sitting on the bench all of the time. We want them playing in the game."
Boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 18 still have a chance to sign up in the Soldotna, Homer and Kenai leagues.
In Soldotna, Pate said the league has extended registration through Sunday. People can register at Alaska Great Skate, which is open Thursday from 6 to 8:30 p.m., Friday from 6 to 10 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.
The fee is $25, with a $75 cap for a family, and Soldotna's opening day is tentatively scheduled for May 13. The season lasts until the end of June, which is when the all-star program starts.
In Homer, Germano said sign-ups will be held in conjunction with skills evaluation this week at Homer Middle School. The times are Thursday from 5:30 to 7 p.m., Friday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Germano said Homer asks $50 for registration, but adds kids won't be sent away if they can't furnish the money. Homer's opening day is May 13 and the season runs through the end of June.
In Kenai, Gemmell said sign-ups and skills evaluations will be at Kenai Central High School from 7 to 9 p.m. today, Thursday and Friday.
It costs $40 to play in the Kenai league, but Gemmell said youngsters will not be turned away due to cost. Kenai's opening day will be May 20 and the season will run through the end of June.
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