Special to the Auburn Mass Daily

When Auburn Little League decided to offer free softball this spring, the organization’s leaders knew they were taking a financial risk.

But they believed it was a risk worth taking if more girls were given the opportunity to play.

So the league purchased new uniforms, visors, equipment and balls, and paid for umpires, charter fees and field maintenance with money collected from baseball registrations. Several local businesses – Fuller Auto Sales, Astrella Ink, Untamed Salon and the Law Offices of Scott Wrenn just to name a few – also stepped up as team sponsors.

“We started from scratch with nothing more than the belief that youth softball players in town should be given the same opportunities as baseball players,” Auburn Little League president Dave Nordman said. “Our membership asked us for softball, and we followed through, but we honestly had no idea what to expect.”

The response was overwhelming with nearly 150 girls signed up – enough to fill 10 teams in three divisions (coach pitch, minors and majors), in addition to its co-ed t-ball division.

“It was more successful than we ever could have imagined,” Nordman said. “I don’t think the girls wanted the season to end. They are already looking forward to next season.”

Submitted photo

Submitted photo

According to Nordman, the plan was to make the transition from free softball registrations in 2015 to full-price registrations ($105) next spring. But that plan changed last month when Auburn LL received a $10,000 grant from Little League International.

The gift will be reinvested in the program.

Auburn LL softball players will now be able to register for half-price ($55) in 2016, thanks to Little League’s $4 million initiative to provide financial assistance to help local leagues grow the game.

“We made the investment in softball before we knew about this grant,” said Dena Daoust, Auburn LL’s vice president, who completed the application and submitted it to Williamsport, Pa. “But this definitely helps us keep the momentum going.”

Auburn LL treasurer Don Letson said the $10,000 will allow Auburn LL to begin its second full softball season with confidence and stability. The league took a similar approach when launching its Intermediate baseball program three years ago, offering free registrations, then half-price.

“It’s an investment in our future as an organization,” Letson said.

Auburn LL applied for the grant in April. Included in its application were several letters of recommendation and support from the community.

“We want to thank everyone who helped make this happen,” Nordman said. “Especially those who took the time to write letters on our behalf – (Auburn High principal) Casey Handfield, (Auburn High softball coach) Katy Senior, (Auburn recreation director) Kristen Pappas and (Auburn Youth Soccer president) Jeff LaBonte.”

Grow the Game is being funded with money from the new eight-year, $76-million contract with ESPN that took effect this year. ESPN and ABC have been Little League’s partner for 50 years.

The goal of the program is to ensure all children have the opportunity to have a meaningful Little League experience.

“Hopefully we are contributing to that goal,” Nordman said.

Auburn Little League is currently registering baseball and softball players for its fall league at www.auburnmalittleleague.com. The cost is just $35 with a deadline of Aug. 14.

Spring registration will open in September