Ooltewah Youth Association president Mark Hancock expects to enroll 400 boys' baseball players and 80 girls' softball players for the season, which starts this week. Youth ages 3 up to 14 play each spring.
About 102 boys' coaches and 21 girls' coaches will oversee seven girls' softball teams and 34 boys' baseball teams this season.
"We are in the process of building a new field," said Hancock. "We are almost maxed out. We will build the backstop for the field. Next year we will do another stage of the field. It will take four to five years to complete it. We need community support. If someone gave us $20,000, it could help us with the fence and backstop."
He said 10 years ago OYA had three fields at Ooltewah Elementary School with at most 250 players. Now OYA has eight fields and is in the process of building a ninth field in Collegedale. Games are played every day except Wednesday and Sunday.
He said OYA does not receive funding from Hamilton County or the city of Collegedale. OYA depends on enrollment fees and concessions to cover expenses, maintain the fields, build improvements and pay umpires. He said OYA pays $15,000 dispersed to 14 umpires for spring baseball and softball. In years past, OYA spent $16,000 on the field house, $10,000 on the batting cage and $4,500 on the pavilion at the current ballpark.
Hancock said every year OYA is responsible for buying $6,000 of brick dust for the fields to absorb rain water. OYA also provides batting helmets, catching gear and baseballs for teams. He said anything the community can contribute is appreciated.
"We had a lot of youth sign up this season for softball and baseball," he said, adding that fall basketball sign-ups were down due to the new Collegedale sign ordinance. "They came up with four locations we could put signs. We used to saturate the area with signs. We have a sign at the entrance of the ballpark, one at Walmart, one at Tallent Road and [another at] Apison Pike."
OYA Dizzy Dean League has players from Snow Hill, East Ridge, East Brainerd, Harrison, Ooltewah, Collegedale and Apison.
The spring season runs through the last week of May. OYA then selects All-Star teams using a draft system.
"If anyone wants to donate, we are a nonprofit organization," said Hancock. "So anyone that donates equipment, it can be counted off on your taxes."
Hancock is a graduate of Ooltewah High School. He said his father was a preacher and taught him to give back to the community.
"My father instilled in me that it's not always about winning," said Hancock. "It's about learning to play the game. This league has grown. I'd like this league to keep the good reputation it has, so the youth keep coming back to play ball."