The spring season is in full swing, and we are excited to debut this new column focusing on all things youth sports!  We thought we would kick things off with an overview of the programs West Orange has to offer, and then go behind the scenes to see what makes youth sports tick.

West Orange Police Athletic League (PAL) and Mountain Top League (MTL), together with the West Orange Recreation Department, work to provide a wide variety of sports programs for the children of West Orange.  This spring alone, our kids had choices including recreational and travel level baseball, softball, lacrosse, and soccer; track; hockey; golf, volleyball and football clinics; a recreational basketball league (high school only); sports conditioning; and skateboard instruction at the new West Orange Skate Park.  How is all this possible?  We’re glad you asked! 

Volunteers.

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Volunteers are the heart, soul and backbone of youth sports programs.  Both PAL and MTL are 503(c) not-for-profit organizations and rely completely on parents and other local volunteers to operate.  Dedicated volunteer trustees administer the programs, creating and overseeing budgets, obtaining necessary insurances, purchasing equipment, organizing leagues and clinics and more.  But it takes the time and talents of many more individuals to actually make the programs run.  Coaching is the most visible example, and right now over 100 volunteers are serving as the coach or assistant coach of a youth baseball, softball or T-ball team.   In some cases, the volunteers are folks dedicating their time with no children in the program but who have grown up in either PAL or MTL and want to give back to the community.

But there is still much more: each Saturday afternoon 15-20 “buddies” spend an hour practicing soccer with athletes with special needs;  throughout the year,  travel soccer relies on parent managers for each of its 21 teams to handle paperwork, scheduling and communications for the team; a group of West Orange High School hockey players are working with future stars of the ice in MTL’s “Learn to Skate” program, last fall over 30 parents and 100 West Orange High School soccer players volunteered at the Essex Fall Tune-Up soccer tournament, a major fundraiser for MTL.  The PAL parents and players have participated in events with the Special Needs program in West Orange; our West Orange High School Baseball players attend practices, working with our players to fine tune their fielding and base running and also lend their experience during our Winter and Summer Baseball clinics. Several WOHS Cheerleaders volunteer countless hours to assist our PAL cheerleaders with learning new WOHS cheers and dances. And Coach Matsakis of the WOHS Football program invites our PAL Football teams to lead the Varsity team out onto the field during Homecoming and Senior Nights. Parents in the PAL program volunteer during these events and at games with concession stand help, maintaining fields and carpooling, and fundraising events like the Annual PAL Hit-A-Thon.  The Travel Baseball program relies on dedicated coaches who coach our travel baseball teams year round at a specific age level. Within the WO Recreation Department, the coaching and fundraising events are handled by the dedicated volunteer parents in the Lacrosse, Wrestling and Basketball Programs. 

If you are already one of the many volunteers helping to make these programs possible, thank you!  If you are not . . . can we entice you?

Top 10 Benefits of Volunteering for PAL/MTL/WO Rec:
10.    It can get you outside (or into the gym, or out on the ice, or wherever) and maybe even get you some exercise.
9.    It’s a rewarding way to share your knowledge and expertise, not just in sports but in web design, accounting, graphic design, fundraising, education, field maintenance, etc.      
8.    You can learn about new developments in the best practices for youth coaching and player development.  This is not your father’s Little League!  A lot has changed since many of us played youth sports, and it’s genuinely interesting to learn how the kids of today are being coached and taught.   
7.    It’s a way to give back during evening or weekend hours.  Parents working traditional hours may not be available to help with school events during the day, but often coaching and behind-the-scenes work can be arranged at a time that’s convenient for you.
6.    New friends!  There is a strong sense of community among our volunteers, and many lasting friendships grow out of PAL and MTL.  
5.    We all want to teach our kids the value and importance of community service, good sportsmanship and physical health.  What better way to walk the talk than to support the work of PAL and MTL?
4.    It shows support for your child’s interests, and gives you an activity to share.  Kids will always remember the years when mom or dad helped out with their team.  And so will you.
3.    #WeAreWestOrange!  A vibrant community sports program brings people together and adds value to our town.  What better way to get to know the talented kids we have in town!
2.    It’s fun!  Spend an hour on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon serving hotdogs or selling popcorn?  Sign me up?
1.    So your child can play.  None of these programs can exist without volunteers.  

So, the next time you get a call, email or text, or see a post looking for a volunteer, stop and ask yourself, “why NOT me?”  And if you don’t have a compelling answer, jump in!  Chances are you’ll be glad you did.  And it never hurts to reach out and offer your help proactively.  Sometimes organizations don’t do a great job of reaching out to current parents or connecting with new families to obtain the help they need, especially at the times when they are busiest. At your child’s next game look around – really LOOK – if those coaches weren’t there, if that parent wasn’t sending out emails (at all hours of the day and night), what if you didn’t have that hot chocolate in the bitter cold, the umpires, the refs, the DPW who comes out on their off day? Without volunteers and folks who care about our West Orange community, our programs wouldn’t exist. 

Even if your help is not needed immediately, the offer will be much appreciated and the organizers will be happy to know that they have our support when the need arises.  Like so many things, running a youth sports program takes a village.

Interested in volunteering with PAL?  Email info@wopal.org.

Interested in volunteering with MTL? Email mountaintopleague@gmail.com (sport-specific emails are available on the MTL website.

UPCOMING DATES:
Summer Baseball Tryouts:
PAL will be holding Summer Baseball tryouts for residents ages 5 through 14.  Players must attend at least 2 tryouts to be considered for a team.  More information regarding the tryouts can be located at www.wopal.org or by e-mailing info@wopal.org.
Ages 5-10
Monday May 7, Tuesday May 8, Wednesday May 9, Thursday May 10
6-8pm at the PAL Field
Ages 11-14
Monday May 14, Tuesday May 15, Wednesday May 16, Thursday May 17
7-9pm at the WOHS Turf Baseball Field
Make up date: Saturday May 19, 1-3pm at the WOHS Turf Baseball Field - all ages - ONLY for players who did not make a second tryout date.
Summer Softball Tryouts:
Tryouts for the Mountain Top League's Travel Softball league will be held on Saturday, May 12th at Kelly Elementary.  Tryouts are for teams ranging from 8U to 14U.  Pre-registration is required.  To register and for more details please visit http://www.mountaintopleague.com//program/softball.
Summer Basketball Tryouts:
The Summer Basketball Tryouts will be held the week of May 7th at the WOHS PVW Gym  Players are required to tryout for the grade they will be in next school year and must register for tryouts at www.westorange.org/rec.   Interested candidates must attend a minimum of one tryout and are open to residents currently in grades 2 through 7.
Monday, May 7th
6:00 pm - Future 3rd/4th Grade Boys
7:15 pm - Future 5th/6th Grade Boys
8:30 pm - Future 7th/8th Grade Boys
Tuesday, May 8th
6:00 pm - Future 3rd/4th Grade Boys
7:15 pm - Future 5th/6th Grade Boys
8:30 pm - Future 7th/8th Grade Boys
Wednesday, May 9th
6:00 pm - Future 3rd/4th Grade Girls
7:15 pm - Future 5th/6th Grade Girls
8:30 pm - Future 7th/8th Grade Girls
Thursday, May 10th
6:00 pm - Future 3rd/4th Grade Girls
7:15 pm - Future 5th/6th Grade Girls
8:30 pm - Future 7th/8th Grade Girls
Travel Soccer Girls ID Session and Tryouts:
On May 11th from 6-8 pm, West Orange United will host open play for girls born 2008-2011.  The session will be held at Lincoln Field (West Orange HS).  This is not a tryout, and attendance at this session is not required in order to tryout.  However, the session is designed to help coaches identify possible future West Orange United players, and give parents the opportunity to learn more about the travel soccer program.  The session is free, but registration is required. http://www.mountaintopleague.com//division_detail/west-orange-united-travel-soccer_soccer-free-play-travel-open-house-players-born-2008-2011  
West Orange United will hold tryouts for its 2018-2019 travel teams in May.  Additional details to follow at http://www.mountaintopleague.com//program/west-orange-united-travel-soccer.
Swim Team Tryouts:
The West Orange Recreation Department's Wave Swim Team will be holding their tryouts on Wednesday, May 30 at the Ginny Duenkel Pool.  Interested candidates must pre-register for the tryouts at www.westorange.org/rec.  Past participation on the team does not guarantee placement on the team and all interested candidates must be registered for the tryouts.  Swim team tryouts are open to residents ages 7 through 18.
Football and Cheerleading Registration:
New season – new league! The PAL will hold registration for the 2018 fall Football and Cheerleading teams in June. Details will be available on http://www.wopal.org.

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Jennifer Buesser has lived in West Orange since 2005.  She is a long-time MTL volunteer and current trustee.  Cheryl Merklinger is a life-long West Orange resident.  She is a second- generation PAL volunteer and current trustee.  We Are West Orange highlights youth sports in town, including the kids they benefit and the volunteers who make them all possible.


For more information about MTL programs:   http://www.mountaintopleague.com/.
For more information about PAL programs: http://www.wopal.org.
For information about WO Recreation Dep’t Programs: http://www.westorange.org/index.aspx?nid=87.
Logo designed by Andrew Mazurek, WOHS Class of 2002: http://www.andrewmazurekart.com.