Small but mighty Chandler American Little League strengthens fabric of W. Chandler

They’ve become the faces of West Chandler. Chandler American Little Leaguers, including these 2021 Minors All-Stars, have been instrumental in strengthening a sense of community. –Photo by Melissa Ruiz

There aren’t that many of them. And none of them is old enough to drive a car or vote.

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Yet the boys and girls who play in the non-profit, volunteer-based Chandler American Little League continue to strengthen the identity of West Chandler and enhance its sense of community through their character, sportsmanship, grit and performance on the diamond.

The Chandler American Juniors Division team won the Arizona District 13 Championship last summer.

The league, founded in the 1980s and representing ZIP codes 85224 and 85226, has prided itself on being smaller and more intimate than its neighboring leagues.

Jeremey Stawiecki, Chandler American Little League vice president, recalls that 30 years ago the area was desolate.

“Our sister league is Chandler National. They have grown to where they are so big that they have two divisions, South and North,” Stawiecki said. They have over 1,500 players, where we like to be a smaller community. Prior to COVID-19, we averaged 250 players. We actually prefer that size because you get a much smaller community feel.”

Nothing says “family atmosphere” about the league more than actual families. The league runs on volunteers, so parental support is key, whether it’s as team parent or volunteer coach. From the player draft in late winter through the end of the season in early summer, parents are along with their kids every step of the way.

Take Majors coach, league Board member and registration coordinator John Carlson for example.

“I’ll be returning for my second time as a head coach this season when my son, who’s now

Chandler American Little League Minors All-Stars take a break at the 2021 district tournament. –Photo by Kristen Johnson

11, enters the Majors Division,” Carlson said. “I’m not sure who is looking forward to it more — him or me.

“My family and I had only lived in Chandler for about 3 years, but I can tell you that being part of Chandler American Little League was the single-most important way we all became part of our new neighborhood and community. It helped us make new friends and get connected with our neighbors. It has helped my son grow and develop as a ball player and provided a regular form of family fun during the week and on weekends. My son Chris has now played seven seasons with Chandler American.”

Carlson was introduced to coaching by his friend and coaching mentor, Stawiecki, another Chandler American blue blood. His sons have played in the league for more than 15 years, and he’s been involved right along with them.

“The league has established a strong community and that is a strong factor in what keeps it so productive and active,” Stawiecki said. “I started with my oldest, who’s (now) a sophomore in college. My youngest is going to be 11. It’s a nice sense of belonging in the community and that’s a big perk for what we do.

“We play our games at the same location and relatively the same days during the week. You meet your neighbors and you meet your neighbors’ kids and you grow up with them from as little as 4 years old in our T-ball Division up to our Juniors Division. Being a smaller league, it has advantages and disadvantages, but I think the biggest thing is definitely the sense of community.”

Chandler American plays its games at Nozomi Park, 250 S. Kyrene Road in Chandler.

League president Nikki Gamboa emphasizes that players and their families need not be Chandler American blue bloods to participate.

“We want families to know that even if they haven’t played before that they are welcome to our league because we have all different ranges of abilities,” Gamboa said.

Little League is not a year-round operation and coaches encourage players to participate in other sports outside of baseball to avoid burnout.

“I tell the kids at the end of the season to throw the glove in the garage and go pick up something else, whatever you want to do,” Stawiecki said.

He acknowledges, though, that among the changes during his involvement is the temptation to play one sport year-round.

“And, there’s a lot more competition from club teams and other leagues,” he said.

Being a non-profit organization, Chandler American depends on sponsorships to help it buy uniforms and other necessities.

“The businesses really support Little League,” Stawiecki said. “Our revenue is from registration and we try to keep our fees extremely low. We rely on the businesses that surround us, so we sell banners or we sell ads for our program. On Opening Day we encourage (sponsors) to come down and display their services. The Diamondbacks got involved and supply us with jerseys and hats, which are a huge cost savings.”

Chandler America offers five divisions, all of them co-ed, starting with T-ball. This is purely instructional in fundamentals for ages 4-6. Registration fees are $45.

Next is Farm Division, for ages 7-8. Players are taught to hit pitches from a machine and to refine skills for the next division. Registration is $65.

Minors, for ages 9-10, are taught to pitch. Game strategies are introduced.

In Majors, for ages 11-12, advanced skills are taught and developed.

Finally, in Juniors, for ages 13-14, new rules are introduced, such as lead-offs and pick-offs, and the field is expanded to 90 feet between bases and to 60-feet, 6-inches for pitching.

Registration for Minors, Majors and Juniors is $120.

More information about Chandler American Little League: Chandleramerican.com.

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