Bigger the better - Alaska Legion to expand in 2014

Posted by Van Williams, ALB Media Director | Jul 2, 2013

American Legion Department Adjutant Gene Franks and Alaska American Legion Baseball Chair Don Winchester are pleased to announce that American Legion AA (Varsity) teams will be expanding the number of teams in 2014 season. 

New teams are being considered in Palmer, a second team in Fairbanks, Kodiak, and possibly Ketchikan. Palmer had its own Legion team a number of years ago, and Fairbanks had two Legion teams in the 1990s. Kodiak and Ketchikan also fielded AA teams but that was at least 20 years ago, according to Winchester. 

Kodiak has a newly installed FieldTurf field that was completed this year. Kodiak is participating in some A (JV) games this year verses other A teams, including three teams visiting Kodiak for multiple game series. 

Juneau Post 25 fielded a Legion team this year for the first time in over a dozen years. Five other Alaska teams will visit the Post 25 team this year in Juneau for three-game series. 

Other towns that have had American Legion teams in past years are also on the radar of Legion officials for expansion in future years. Those include Sitka, Homer, Valdez and Seward. 

“We want to give young players of these towns an opportunity to be involved with the American Legion organization represents,” said Winchester.

Winchester said that ASAA which governs high school sports in Alaska indicated to Legion Baseball officials that there are 30 Alaska high school varsity baseball teams.

In 2013 there were just 12 varsity teams competing in Legion baseball in Alaska. 

In the Valley, Palmer, Wasilla, Colony, Houston all fielded Varsity high school teams, and some JV high school teams. All of those schools fed one AA (Varsity) level team located in Wasilla. 

In 2013 the greater Fairbanks area, Lathrop, West Valley, North Pole, Eielson, Monroe Catholic, Hutchison and Delta, all fielded Varsity and/or JV high school teams.  

Some areas have combined various high school attendance areas to form teams, allowed under Legion rules. In Anchorage, each of the eight public high schools fields an AA (Varsity) team and some teams also field an A team. 

“That significant difference between 12 American Legion Varsity teams and 30 Alaska high school teams means there are plenty of kids around the state that are not getting a chance to improve their baseball skills and practice other American Legion baseball principals of sportsmanship and teamwork,” Winchester said. “American Legion Baseball is the largest and most respected national organization for teenage age baseball players in the country.”

Most Alaska high school teams play between 10 and 15 games, in late April and May. Weather and field challenges abound in various areas that make even playing games a cold, wet adventure during these months. 

Winchester indicated that becoming a well-rounded high school age players, takes more than 10 to 15 games played when it is 40 to 50 degrees. 

“The difference between the level of play in May to what the teams look like in July is a very apparent,” Winchester said. “You get better in baseball by playing more games, and learning more about your teammates – you can do that in the summer in American Legion Baseball.” 

More than 100,000 youth annually play American Legion baseball in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. 

Most Alaska American Legion AA (Varsity) teams play approximately 25 to 35 games in June and July around the state. The top two finishers in the state tournament represent Alaska in regional tournaments. 

Some teams travel outside of Alaska to play in American Legion tournaments, and some participate in the Alaska Airlines Tournament Tour, which takes place in tournament format in Fairbanks, Wasilla, Anchorage and Kenai with invited teams from Outside. 

“Alaska Airlines has been a significant partner and sponsor of American Legion Baseball and has assisted in getting team's around the State with special fares to encourage the expansion,” Winchester said. “Alaska Airlines is a huge supporter of our plans. They are truly embracing allowing more teams to compete and learn about the benefits of American Legion Baseball.”

American Legion individual team rosters are limited to 18 players, and some teams have completely full rosters, leaving many area youth not playing at all in June and July. 

“We want to change that,” Winchester said.

Approximately half of MLB players have played American Legion Baseball and an estimated 75 percent of college players wore the Legion patch. 

American Legion Baseball in Alaska and high school baseball teams has produced more than a hundred students who participated in some level of college baseball over the last dozen years. 

“Given our weather challenges this alone is a testament to our development of baseball talent,” said Winchester.

Franks indicated that American Legion post sponsorship from various communities is forthcoming.  Team coaching leadership, fields that will be played on, uniform colors and mascots are all yet to be determined by the local expansion teams. 

“American Legion Baseball is one of our major youth efforts organized under the Americanism committee,” Franks said. “We would like to see more of our youth baseball players in Alaska given the opportunity to learn about dedication, sportsmanship, team loyalty that makes up American Legion Baseball.”