Tyler Brooks talks with players in the Bloomingdale Optimist leagues. Photo by Matthew Carroll.
The spawning of a new baseball and softball league in the area has given children of the Bloomingdale community a positive outlet in their own part of town. But it hasn't been easy.
The group has had to deal with a few setbacks due to a lack of funding, but it has overcome it all and the new league has gained popularity in the area.
"To be able to do this is just making a positive light for the kids and giving the kids a way out," Tyler Brooks, director of the Bloomingdale Optimist Softball and Baseball leagues. "That is why I say that our No. 1 focus is the kids. It gives them an escape from other things. They may be having family problems, things like that; so, our hope is for them to be able to come here and get positive influence and encouragement."
Brooks, a father himself, noticed a lack of fundamentals being taught to young players and approached Bloomingdale Optimist Club President Shaun Minnick to ask for help in starting a new league.
"Our Bloomingdale community already has our back against the wall as far as the things that we have out there," Brooks said.
This league and other athletic programs provided by Bloomingdale Optimist are the only feeder systems for Sullivan North High School. In the league's first year, it has attracted around 170 kids from ages 3-13, that play T-ball, softball and baseball.
Being a first-year league, they were forced to buy all new equipment, including helmets and catchers gear, for kids that would not have the gear otherwise. The lack of funding has been an issue, but they have been able to overcome it without the help of their local government.
"We have put all of it together with only a few donations from local businesses, registration fees from parents, and Bloomingdale Optimist funds," Brooks said. "There hasn't been any help from the county."
Despite spending millions of dollars on the new school at Ketron Elementary where they play, the county did not install some basic things for baseball games to take place - like home plates, pitching mounds and electrical outlets for scoreboards and pitching machines. Also left off the budget were dugouts, concession stands and bathrooms.
"We started the league with just the fields," Minnick said. "We had to have dirt and 28 tons of sand delivered for the fields. We had to buy tents to use for dugouts and concessions, and also had portable bathrooms brought to the fields for the season."
Regardless of the shortcomings, Brooks and his crew have put all of that to the side in order to put the kids first.
"You can see it plain as day, the focus is on the kids and it isn't on anyone else," Brooks said.
And Brooks is quick to mention that he hasn't done it by himself, pointing to the help he receives from the Bloomingdale Optimist Club and others.
Paul Robinson handles all of the softball duties, which frees up some time for Brooks. He also enjoys the help of Steven and Heather Duty as they contribute their time whether it be on helping with the fields or in the concession stands.
Andrew Ketron also helps Brooks by being there for anything he might need.
"We probably have the best group that we could have available," Brooks said. "The parents have been very understanding and the best group we could ask for."
"He's done a great job," Minnick said of Brooks. "It has really turned out good and I hope people will continue to bring their kids out and allow our coaches to teach them the fundamentals of the game."
Anyone looking to make donations to the first-year league can mail them to: Bloomingdale Optimist, P.O. Box 7446, Kingsport, TN 37664.