After 50 years of affiliation with Little League, North Fort Myers youth baseball is about to undergo a seismic shift.
The league has decided to move to Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth ball and change its name to North Fort Myers Babe Ruth League Inc., as a way to extend its narrow boundaries and to play the game a little more like the big boys do.
For the powers that be, including league president Bill Lemmerman, it was a very difficult decision, especially after so many years of flying the Little League banner.
"It was a very big decision for us to change. Little League is a great organization, but it was no longer a good fit for us," Lemmer-man said. "Our charter boundaries were so small in terms of the pool of players we could get."
Lemmerman said the charter boundaries were from U.S. 41 east to State Road 31, north of the river up to Charlotte County, with much of that area being agricultural.
"If I could teach farm animals to play, we'd be all set. We just lacked enough youth to put together a strong competitive program," Lemmerman said, adding that with every youth comes the potential of another volunteer as a coach, concession person or whatever.
Under the Ripken/Ruth banner, Lemmerman will have a much larger pool of players in which to draw from. Boundaries will be in northeast Cape Coral north of Diplomat Parkway, and all of North Fort Myers and Fort Myers.
North Fort Myers isn't the first Little League program to defect. Punta Gorda did the same thing this year, while Murdock and Englewood to the north did the same a couple years ago.
Lemmerman said the Ripken/Ruth program in Cape Coral is very successful and bursting at the seams, with Naples doing about the same, which also contributed to the league's decision.
Ripken/Ruth ball is a little different from Little League. All its leagues are competitive, even at T-ball, and once you reach the major-league level, players begin to play with big boy rules.
Runners can lead off base and balks can be called, and the field size increases from 60 to 70 feet between bases and the mound goes from 46 feet to 50 feet.
"Ripken is more focused on a traditional game. It teaches the game everyone is used to seeing," Lem-merman said.
As far as changing the distances, Lemmerman said they would keep the Little League dimensions because the county can't bear the cost of changing the field.
Early returns have been promising. Registration is already up from last year at this time, with nearly a third of them who are new to the league and 20 percent who are outside the former boundaries, Lemmerman said.
"The majority is from northeast Cape Coral, where we're closer to their home than the other leagues and there are kids who want to play," Lemmerman said. "We asked Little League for some of that area, but after three years, they said no. Our move to Babe Ruth proves we were right."
The goal is to have at least the same amount to teams as last year, with three or four more T-ball teams, which Lemmerman said is being offered for free this year.
Registration goes until Jan. 26 and is available to boys and girls 4 to 18.
For more information, go to www.NFMBabeRuthBaseball.com or contact Randy McGovern at 357-1618.