Harley Jackson pitches for the Red Sox on Tuesday's game against the Yankees. (Roselynn Wahtomy photos)
Fort Hall Little League program grows
By ROSELYNN WAHTOMY
POCATELLO – The Fort Hall Little League has three teams playing in the Pocatello League.
Mikee Blackhawk coaches the 9 and 10 Red Socks, Eddy Kniffin coaches the 9 and 10 Indians and J.R. Hall coaches the 11 and 12-year-old Indians. All the coaches are volunteers.
The baseball program started four years ago with the help of Alf Lopez with his son Jacob, who was 10 at the time. They initially began with just enough kids to play. The next year they followed up with an 11 and 12 team coached by Lopez and Kniffin, Hall, and Blackhawk helped with the 9 and 10 team. Once Lopez couldn’t coach anymore due to a work schedule conflict Hall took over the 11 and 12. Fathers that are willing to help have stepped up and assisted as well.
Over the years the program has continued to grow.
“Just by word of mouth and the kid’s parents thought it was cool,” explained Kniffin. “This year we had 24 kids sign up for 9 and 10 year olds.”
The 9 and 10 year olds start the season focusing on the fundamentals of the game. Players laughed as they learned to catch rolling baseballs, demonstrating the technique of properly handling grounders. They also laughed when they caught balls thrown in the air learning how to catch fly balls.
They thought about forming a 13 and 14 year old team but only had six kids sign up.
The season goes through the end of May with all teams playing 14 games. The season ends with a double elimination tournament.
This is the first time in over 40 years the Pocatello league has come out to play Fort Hall in a baseball game. Kniffin says the outfield is a little rough but the infield is good to play on.
Many of the kids who play are beginners; Kniffin has about four kids who are returning players. However, there are several standout players among the bunch. Blackhawk’s team has Harley Jackson, a girl, who played before in girl’s fast pitch. Also Deacon Blackhawk, playing his third year. Kniffin sees potential in players Dayton Eldridge and Kyle Broncho. Hall's team has Rendell Pokibro and Levi Runningeagle, who have come up through the system since it started. That’s also true for most of the 11 year olds on the team.
Kniffin noted it can be expensive for some families to afford the fees to play, which equals to about $70, but when parents complain he reminds them it’s cheaper than court costs.
“At least every evening you know for two hours they’re either practicing or playing a game instead of running around.”
Kniffin says they have a lot of good parents who encourage their kids to get off the couch.
Signups for little league are usually in March and Kniffin encourages kids to come out and participate, girls too.
Playing and coaching baseball is something Kniffin has had many years of experience with. He used to play in a softball traveling team and coached in Pocatello winning several times in various divisions and even put together an all star team. He also helped coach his son from age eight to 14.
The coaches do their best to stress, “If we win – great. If we lose – there’s two kinds of losing. One, I tell them I can’t deal with is if they’re lazy, if they strike out and they cry, if they take the field and they walk, just being lazy about it. But if they give their best effort and we lose, that’s all we could ask. It’s still a good game,” he said.
Kniffin said the overall goal of the program is to prepare the players for playing at the high school level.
It’s possible at the end of the current season, in the summer; they may start another team to play in a few super league tournaments.
The Fort Hall Indians 11 and 12 team started their season 2-1, with their first loss in Monday’s game against the Rockies in Pocatello.
Spectators are invited to come support and see the two Fort Hall 9 and 10 teams faceoff at the Fort Hall field on Thursday, April 25 at 6 p.m.
Fort Hall Recreation supports the teams and offers transporation for the players to games in Pocatello.
Red Sox players huddle as their coach Mikee Blackhawk instructs them.