Little League scoops up a big following

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

LITTLE League baseball, that quintessential American kiddie sport, is making its share of hits, if not runs, abroad.

``There are now 30 countries participating in Little League outside the United States,'' says public relations director Steve Keener of Little League Baseball Inc. in Williamsport, Pa.

``Much depends on where the US military is stationed,'' he adds. ``American kids make up about 99 percent of Little League in Europe and, say, Saudi Arabia. Teams in Japan, Mexico, Canada, and Latin America are mostly made up of local kids, however.''

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Mr. Keener, who played second base on a Little League team from age 7 (``I wasn't great, but I did manage to make the all-star team twice''), explains that although Little League keeps some statistics, many are ``too difficult to keep accurately.''

In 1974 it took an Act of Congress to change the Little League charter to include girls. Even so, ``there are no records of how many girls are in Little League,'' says Mr. Keener. ``We figure it's somewhere around 1 in 300, not including the softball divisions. We keep a roster of names, but not gender. So who can tell if Chris Jones or Pat Smith is a boy or girl?''

Here are the latest facts and figures on some records kept, according to Mr. Keener:

Little League was started in Williamsport, Pa., in 1939 for boys ages 12 and under who were often bullied off the field by older boys.

Little League Baseball Inc. is composed of several divisions: Little League, ages 8 through 12; Senior League, 13 through 15 (if an area has an abundance of 13-year-olds, a Junior League can be made up of only 13-year-olds); Big League, 16 through 18. Two softball leagues serve ages 9 through 12 and 13 through 15.

There are 7,000 divisions of Little League around the world. Other divisions total another 8,600, for a total of 15,600. Approximately 60,000 girls are involved in the softball leagues.

Of the 50 states in the US, only North Dakota has no organized Little League. California has the most.

Outside the US, Japan leads in number of Little League divisions with 350. Puerto Rico is second with 104, followed by Mexico with 94.

Little League has grown every year since 1939. This year more than 2.5 million children are included in all divisions. By Little League regulations, there can be no more than one league per area of 20,000 population. 30{et

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