In the late 1960s, a handful of Gunbarrel and Niwot parents formed a sandlot baseball league as an alternative to leagues in Longmont and Boulder. Over the next five decades, that ragtag group blossomed into Niwot Youth Sports, which serves hundreds of the area’s budding athletes each year. On Sunday, May 5, NYS kicked-off its 50th anniversary season, and executive director Pat Longseth said it’s on track to be one of their biggest yet.
“This is the largest turnout we’ve had for baseball and softball in the past three to four years, or at least since I’ve been part of the organization. We’ve hit almost 500 kids between the two programs this year, which is quite a feat.”
It also made for quite a crowd at the opening day festivities out at Hangge Fields at Monarch Park. Dozens of players donned colorful jerseys and hats for newly minted teams, such as the Blue Jays, Mets, and Wonder Women. There was also a bouncy castle and a visit from a very special guest.
“It was terrific,” said Galen Scheidenhelm, NYS’s new director of recreational baseball. “We had a fantastic turn-out, our volunteers were on top of their game, [Colorado Rockies mascot] Dinger was there, and he was a smashing success, and the weather was amazing. For my first year as director, I could not be happier.”
Scheidenhelm hasn’t been with NYS for long—he took over as baseball director earlier this year following the departure of longtime director Tim Rudden—but he is no stranger to youth baseball. His father was a former director and longtime volunteer for North Boulder Little League, and Scheidenhelm was often pressed into duty as his assistant. He has also worked with kids as a counselor at the YMCA and as a teacher and director of recreational programs for kids with disabilities.
“I grew up dragging the baseball fields and umpiring. Now that I have kids and settled in Niwot, it just felt like the right fit.”
Scheidenhelm is also the head coach for the rookie league Mets (6-7 years old) and the bubblegum league Rockies (4-5).
In addition to baseball, Niwot Youth Sports currently offers recreational and competitive teams in flag football, softball, and basketball, and later this year will relaunch its soccer program, which has been on hiatus for the last 12 months. About 900 athletes from Niwot, Gunbarrel and South Longmont participate on a yearly basis.
That’s a number Longseth hopes to see get bigger, and not just because it helps keep the non-profit organization afloat.
“I came up through Niwot Youth Sports, and I feel it had such a great impact on my life, and I hope we can do the same thing for as many kids as possible,” Longseth said. “I think it’s extremely important to our youth, and helping them become adults. There’s so many things they learn—from teamwork, to discipline, to working together in different aspects.”
It’s also a great way for parents to engage with the community, he added.
“We’re not all teachers, so it’s a great place for moms and dads to get out there and teach their kids and their kids’ friends lifelong lessons and things they’ll remember forever.”
Longseth said the organization has several new initiatives in store for its golden anniversary season, starting with a fundraising campaign to make things a little more hospitable out at the Hangge Fields at Monarch Park complex.
“We’re going to raise funds this year to put a building out at the Monarch facility with concessions, restrooms, an events office for baseball and softball tournaments, and then a place for the lawnmowers and things like that. Our big thing this year is trying to get that building project moving forward.”
That campaign is set to launch later this summer, and will be held in conjunction with a celebratory picnic. There are also plans to re-institute a tradition from Longseth’s days as an NYS athlete.
“We’re going to start a summer baseball camp this year for our 9-12 year olds that will be headed up by the head coach at Niwot High School, Adam Strah,” he said. “I remember going to it as a kid and coaching when I was a Niwot high school baseball player, with Bob Bote. We’re going to essentially reboot that.”
That ability to connect with the past is another thing that makes NYS special, according to Longseth, and many former NYS athletes are now bringing their children to the program.
“That’s the cool thing about Niwot— it is the same,” he said of his time in the league compared to now. “I see a lot of familiar faces, but I also see a lot of support from the rest of the community as well. It’s a great community, the people care about the community, so that makes Niwot Youth Sports successful year over year over year.”
For more information about Niwot Youth Sports, visit niwotyouthsports.org.