What? No Charleroi Legion baseball team?
For the first time in memory the Fayette County American Legion League is missing one of its long-time entries on the league schedule.
Charleroi does not have a team.
Charleroi, which had long been a powerhouse in the league, dating back as far as the early 1980s, was unable to field a team due to a lack of players, according to league Chairman Kurt Shutterly.
“I talked to (Charleroi manager Luke Mollis) and he told me he just didn't have enough kids to put a team together,” said Shutterly.
Charleroi draws from the Charleroi and Ringgold school districts and Mollis told Shutterly he did not get one player from Ringgold on his team for the season.
“It's disappointing, but when you look at it all the way around, baseball is dying locally,” Shutterly said. “Colt programs are disappearing. Pony programs are down and those are our feeder systems. Without them, we are pretty much screwed.”
While summer travel teams have also been considered a culprit in hurting legion programs, Shutterly feels that there are just less kids playing in the younger levels, which translates into less players on the legion level.
Kevin Mollis, who managed Charleroi's legion program through its most prominent years in the 1980s through the early 2000s, said it hurts him to see the program go in limbo.
“It's a damn, shame, really,” said Mollis, whose son, Luke, was Charleroi's manager a year ago. “We gave up the Monessen kids to Belle Vernon so they could get a team back in and we didn't think it would bite us, but it probably did.
“We only had eight kids come out for legion ball. Most of the Ringgold kids are playing (travel) baseball. You don't know how much it bothers me (that Charleroi doesn't have a team).”
Not only was Charleroi a stronghold in the league over the years, but Vets Field in Charleroi was a hotbed for baseball talent and often hosted any of the American Legion Regional tournaments.
Mollis said he thought there might have been a season in the 1960s when Charleroi did not have a legion baseball team, but that was it.
On a brighter note, Kevin Mollis said that his son has some promising young players and is running Charleroi's Colt team this summer. Luke Mollis is also Charleroi High's varsity baseball coach.
“Luke has a bunch of young kids in Colt League, so hopefully legion will come back real soon,” he said.
A year ago, the Fayette County League had seven teams and that is the number it has for the 2013 season. However, Shutterly said he had been planning for 10 teams going into the campaign.
“Charleroi, Point Marion and Carmichaels dropped out,” said Shutterly. “But we did get Belle Vernon back.”
Belle Vernon failed to field a team in 2012, but now is back and manager Bill Frankel's team includes players from Belle Vernon, Monessen and Charleroi.
The other teams in the league are mainstays Colonial 3, Connellsville, Uniontown, California and Farmington. Waynesburg is also back in the league this season.
California has yet to play a game because California's high school team has been in the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs.
Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or firstname.lastname@example.org.