Children from age 8 to 13 soon will begin spending their summer under All Dorchester Sports & Leadership, playing baseball at Town Field in Fields Corner. The program is a learning opportunity: no experience is required to play.
“You don’t have to be a superstar baseball player,” said Candice Gartley, the program’s executive director.
The season starts on June 24 and will continue through the second week of August, Gartley said. Typically, events are peppered throughout the week: one game takes place during the week and one on Saturday mornings, and Gartley and her staff try to schedule a clinic during the week as well.
There is no hard deadline to register for summer sports, because many families “have a lot going on,” Gartley said. All Dorchester Sports & Leadership (ADSL) accepts registration over the phone and online and it has an online payment option.
Registration for wood bat baseball, for 8- to 10-year-old boys and girls, costs $50. The City Wide baseball program, for 11- to 12-year-old boys and girls, costs $60; Lou Tompkins, for 13- to 15-year-old boys, costs $65. Gartley said that there may be a summer softball program for girls launched later, as there were around 260 girls in softball during the school year.
“The interesting thing is for baseball, in general nationally, numbers are down for kids playing baseball,” Gartley said. “I don’t know exactly what the reason is.”
Gartley said that at a summit earlier this year, plenty of recreation advocates agreed that the decline in youth baseball players was “a big issue.” Many attributed it to the numerous options available for youth summer sports, from soccer to lacrosse.
Since Gartley began as executive director in 2013, enrollment in sports programs at ADSL has nearly quadrupled, she said. She believes this is largely a result of neighborhood outreach programs. Representatives have done community engagement in Dorchester’s “supermarkets and hair salons,” Gartley said, and bilingual coaches have recruited from Vietnamese and Hispanic communities in and around Fields Corner.
“Our numbers have been really good as a result of that,” Gartley said. “It’s not like, if we build it, they will come, because they don’t know we’ve built it.”
ADSL has long roots in community engagement and integration in Dorchester. Its founding in 1983 was a direct response to racial violence and growing racial tension in the neighborhood, according to the program’s website.
“ADSL has been such an integral part of the Dorchester community because it was started as a result of post-busing violence in the ‘80s,” Gartley said. “The reason it was created was to bring kids of different backgrounds together to learn how to play on the same team.”
For Gartley, who has lived in Dorchester for 30 years, the ability to continue the league’s mission of bringing her neighborhood together is paramount. ADSL’s programs play an integral role here, she said.
“Every single day, I talk to people who say, ‘I used to play for ADSL,’ or ‘My kid used to play,’” Gartley said. “It’s got an incredible history that I want to continue in Dorchester.”
Over Gartley’s four years with ADSL, she said this year’s registration has been the largest. She credits a focus on retention through other programs like tutoring and cooking classes. She also makes sure to stay in contact with children throughout the year—so, she says, she can tell them, “Hey, we’re thinking about you. Come on back in.”
“We have a lot of kids who are really stressed out,” Gartley said. “They come from low-income, underserved families. There’s a lot of pressure at home, for whatever reason, so I think it’s really important that we can get physical activity for these kids.”
Right now, the league is still seeking additional coaches. Gartley is the only full-time employee at the nonprofit organization, but she said she works with an AmeriCorps VISTA member and several part-time program directors who receive stipends for their work.
“We do a lot with a little. Basically, I’ve become really good at scheduling and ordering uniforms,” Gartley said, laughing.
Her children have grown up, but her 30-year-old daughter, 24-year-old daughter, and 20-year-old son have all been involved with the league. Her son coaches there, and he and her younger daughter both tutor. Gartley believes ADSL’s mission is to provide the neighborhood with “the safest and healthiest opportunities we can.”
“As a mom of kids who have done athletics, I have a sense of what parents want for their kids, and I know they want a really good solid program that’s reasonable, and they want really good coaches,” Gartley said. “Those are the two sort of guiding principles that I use. Like, what would I want for my kids?”