After nearly two years since the completion of its last season, Refugio Little League is ready to dust off the dirt and go sliding into competition once again.

The 2021 baseball and softball campaigns will begin in March, with sign-ups currently ongoing via the league’s website, tshq.bluesombrero.com. Drafting for teams in the league’s multiple divisions will take place in February. 

Divisions begin at age 4, with a T-ball league through age 6. The coach-pitch division begins at 6 and goes to 8-year-old players, with the age range taking kids off the tee and facing off in the batters’ box against coaches. 

The all-star divisions are minor league for ages 8-10, major league for ages 10-12 and junior league for ages 12-14. 

Refugio’s league was first chartered in 1953 by Little League International in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Since then, thousands of local children have played baseball or softball for the league, which is currently managed by Refugio Elementary School teacher Ryan Linney. 

Linney played in Refugio’s youth baseball ranks as a child, eventually graduating from Refugio High School in 1994. He returned to take over league operations in 2013.

“Once you get involved, you’re kind of stuck,” he said.

His passion for Refugio’s Little League system fueled him to take real charge of the league, wanting to pass along the tradition of his youth.

“When I took over, I wanted to make the Little League better than what it was when I played,” he said. “It’s just a passion to keep the fields looking nice and bringing in as many kids as you can. It’s all about stressing teamwork, (building) character, that’s pretty important in today’s society.”

After the destruction of Hurricane Harvey, Linney exhausted every possible resource to continue playing through the challenged Refugio area. Through his campaign, Linney received donations from many locations, from locals to national brands such as Dick’s Sporting Goods. 

“I think it got nicer (after Harvey),” he said. “I was able to fundraise about $250,000. We maintained and built up from that point on, and we’re still going at it. We’re going to improve it as much as we can when we have funds.”

Just a couple years after the hurricane, the league was dealt another blow from the outside world in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. Linney laughed as he recalled how 2020’s plans were scrapped just as they began, as teams played just a week’s worth of games before being shut down by Little League International officials in South Williamsport.

“Because we’re chartered by (ILL), we have to go along with what they tell us to do,” Linney said. “They were saying, at the time, that we would get to play again. Little did we know, we never were able to start back up. Hopefully, this year will be a little different.”

Given the go-ahead to re-start in 2021, the league will look slightly different, but not too much so. There will be hand sanitizer aplenty throughout team dugouts, as well as face coverings. Linney remarked that all he can tell parents about sign-ups for 2021 is that “we’re just gonna make it as safe as possible.”

Due to the nature of baseball and softball, though, some aspects won’t change.

“When playing defense on a baseball field, you’re six feet apart, no matter how you look at it,” Linney said.

Getting back onto the field has several perks for Refugio Little League players. 

First, players will get to travel throughout the Texas East District 29 area, testing their baseball and softball aptitude against players from other towns. Currently, District 29 is a hefty conglomerate, made up of teams from: Refugio, Woodsboro, Aransas Pass, Port Aransas, Beeville, Bobcat, Cotton Belt, Gregory-Portland, Ingleside, Mathis, North Bee County, North Live Oak County, Odem, Orange Grove, Rockport-Fulton, Sinton, South Live Oak and Taft Little Leagues.

Second, there will be a host of coaches ready to teach young players all aspects of the game, no matter the age.

“In T-ball, it’s basically figuring out what to do, running to first base, hitting the ball solidly off a tee, receiving the ball as an outfielder,” Linney said. “When it comes to the coach-pitch level, that’s when the ball comes off the tee and the coaches are pitching to them, really working on hand-eye coordination, feel the bat hitting the ball. When you move up to the all-star level, they basically have an awareness of what to do, it’s just honing in on the perfection of that.”

By the major and junior league levels, players will have a “feel” for how the game is going, continuing to master their craft before potentially taking their talents to the Bobcats or Lady Cats.

“They (have to) find their passion if they want to keep playing or not (after junior level) into the high school,” he said. “It could be a good feeder program, both baseball and softball, for the (high school) programs.”

To learn a new sport, perfect the craft, or to just get out of the house for some physical activity, Refugio’s Little League system works for all the right reasons.

For more information and to sign up, visit thsq.bluesombrero.com, or look up Refugio Little League on Facebook.

•tleffler@mysoutex.com•

Recommended for you