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Pair Raising Funds to Create New Youth Baseball League in Dayton

If everything goes as planned, there will be new options for the kids in Dayton to play baseball this summer. Justin Fussinger and Eugene Hamblin are raising funds for a new youth baseball program in Dayton that will be less expensive than existing leagues and would also provide a better chance for young players to develop their skills.

“They have the youth league down here, obviously, but what we wanted to do was to get our own league started, teach the kids the fundamentals of baseball a little better than what they have down here at the youth league, teach them the proper way to play the game, and then just bring the love of baseball back, because it's taken a back seat to all of the sports,” Hamblin said.

Fussinger is the head baseball coach at Dayton High School and he says that the idea for the program is to provide kids in Dayton a more enriched baseball experience than what is currently provided in the youth league. He said that in the current Dayton Youth League, because of the small amount of players that register, teams are forced to combine broad age ranges that hurt individual skill development.

“In the past, I heard prior to me becoming the head baseball coach at Dayton High School, that there were teams consisting of 10-year olds to 15-year olds, and me being a coach, and many people agree, that you can't have that big of an age gap,” Fussinger said. “It was just because of a numbers game. A lot of people would go down to Bellevue Vets for their baseball. We would lack teams here so we'd have to combine, but that was the majority of the problem that I saw, and I wanted to get a sense of camaraderie with our kids.”

He says he understands why other Dayton leagues are forced to combine teams into broad age ranges due to the small size of the city, but he felt it was important to give the kids other opportunities that keep their interest.

“It's no offense to the people who run the league. I know the guy personally, he's a great guy, but his hands are tied because there's not a lot of kids that wanted to play. So then when you only have three teams, you're having a round robin with the same teams and the kids get bored,” Fussinger said.

The program will consist of five teams with a seven-year old coach-pitch team, an eight-year old team, and nine and 10-year old team, an 11 and 12-year old team, and a 13 and 14-year old team. While they say it is important to give Dayton's kids a chance for a better baseball experience, the two also say they would also like to harbor a deeper camaraderie among the Dayton youth who play sports together.

“A lot of our kids are leaving and going to Bellevue Vets and playing. So yeah, you're obviously boosting Bellevue but you're not taking care of Dayton,” Hamblin said. “We want to give the kids of Dayton something positive, get something established, and keep the kids in Dayton. So when they do eventually get up to the high-school level, they aren't leaving to play at other local high schools. We're setting the foundation now and we just want to keep it growing.”

They explained how keeping kids in Dayton and developing them there will eventually boost the high school baseball program that Fussinger coaches.

“With us, our big thing is numbers. If you have eleven boys in the graduating high school class and they all don't want to play baseball, there's not a lot to choose from there,” he said. “So we're trying to build that love up and hopefully they stick with it throughout. When that happens, hopefully we can have a JV team and then it builds up a little more and we have a freshman team.”

The Dayton teams will play in the Crosstown League that features teams across the Northern Kentucky area. That league, Fussinger and Hamblin say, will provide the players to play against more teams and provide a better experience for them in terms of both development and fun.

“Joining the Crosstown league, unlike Dayton Youth, you're not playing the same team every other week, said Hamblin. “Down here with the Youth League, you were playing the same team every other week, it doesn't give you much competition, it doesn't give you any exposure, it doesn't make you any better, and the kids get bored with it.”

The money they raise for the teams will go towards new equipment and uniforms as well as pay league registration fees. It was important for the two men to offer an affordable price to the parents of Dayton kids.

“Our biggest problem that we have now is needing new equipment, paying registration fees, new uniforms, and the big thing that we hit on is that you go look elsewhere to play knothole baseball, you're not playing for $50 and that's all we're charging our kids,” Hamblin said. “Dayton is low income, we understand that and we don't want Dayton to be known for that but we want our kids to have the same experience as somebody else. We're not here to make anything off of the kids, we just want to have fun and bring this experience to them.”

They said that while the rosters are set as all-boys teams, girls are still invited to try out if they would like to play baseball.

“We're not against girls playing knothole baseball. If they want to play, bring them out. We will try them out. If they're better than the other boys, they will make the squad,” Hamblin said.

Fussinger said that there is discussion taking place to offer girls a similar softball program next year.

Fussinger and Hamblin also see their efforts as a way to bring the city closer together.

“We want to be more of a family tight-knit community than a lot of people portray Dayton as from the outside,” Fussinger said. “So we want to kind of show that off, too, and I think this is a good starting point because when we play our away games, we have a set of rules that we have come up with as a group to say what will and won't be tolerated. In the past you would have kids yelling at each other, we're getting away from that.”

To help raise funds for the program, they are holding a cornhole tournament at Dayton Eagles on March 21 with a $5 entry fee. They also accept donations and business sponsorship at any time. Follow the new effort on Facebook.

“It all comes together for the safety of the kids, it's fundamentally sound. We love the sport of baseball, we obviously love our kids, and we love our community and we want to build that up with everything else,” Hamlin said.

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor