07-26 langleys 2

Steven Langley pitches in his final game with the Paris Optimist Club.

Though it certainly still feels like the dead of winter, Spring is fast approaching. And with it will come Paris Optimist Baseball. However, just a week before teams are scheduled to be set, the club is still looking for more registrants to fill its teams.

So far, the club has had just under 500 children register to play, said Paris Optimist Club executive director Sabra Vaughan. And while that might seem like a lot, it falls well short of the roughly 750 children who normally participate.

“Some of the numbers may be down because of Covid and people still being worried about playing, but we’re down pretty substantially from where we normally are,” she said.

To give people more time to register, the club has extended registration. In-person registration events will be held on Friday from 12:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Woodall Baseball Field, on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m. People can also register online at parisoptimistbaseball.com.

Teams are scheduled to be set on Feb. 22, and Vaughan said she hopes to have enough registrants that the draft doesn’t need to be pushed back.

“We really don’t want to push our schedule back,” she said.

Vaughan said children can still register late after teams have been set, though doing so incurs an additional $20 fee.

The league typically consists of roughly 70 teams, but it's not out of the realm of possibility for the league to reduce the number of teams this season if they don't get enough registrants.

The league, which is open to both boys and girls, consists of age groups ranging for three and four-year-olds, to 13 and 14-year olds. And Vaughan said the club is opening its doors this year to 15-year-olds, with some caveats.

"Each year we get a couple parents who call and say, 'My kid loves baseball but is a bit too old. Can he still play?'" Vaughan said. "This year we're letting 15-year-olds play, but only if they don't also play for their school, and they can't be pitcher or catcher."

The club has developed a reputation for success in recent years. In 2019, the 10U team — consisting of the top players from the age group's teams — won the Dixie League World Series, competing against youth teams from across the country. In 2020, even though the coronavirus pandemic prevented the team from repeating as national champs, they still won the state championship in September.

“We’re proud of all of our kids, of course, but when a team is able to do that, it’s incredibly exciting for them, but also for everyone,” Vaughan said. “They put in a lot of work and dedication, and seeing it all pay off is great.”

At the end of the day, though, the Paris Optimist Club is open to anyone of any skill level.

"There are so many life lessons to be learned in baseball," Vaughan said. "This is a lot of fun and it really is good for the children too."

Tommy Culkin is sports editor for The Paris News. He can be reached at 903-785-6972 or at tommy.culkin@theparisnews.com.

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