Fall ball is coming to Anchorage middle schools.
A brief baseball season will begin Labor Day with an all-school jamboree, followed by three straight Saturdays of doubleheaders.
Organized by the Alliance for Support of American Legion Baseball in Alaska, practice begins Aug. 19 at each school and all of the games will be played in September, with most happening at Kosinski Fields.
Baseball and softball became options for Anchorage School District middle-schoolers in the 2018-19 school year, when both debuted as spring sports.
There were no seasons the next two school years because of the pandemic, but they are back for 2021-22 — and this time, baseball will be a fall sport while softball will remain a spring sport.
Steve Nerland of the Alliance said middle school principals asked about the possibility of one of the sports moving to the fall to help ease the demands on gym and field time in the spring, when hundreds of middle-school students participate in track and field.
“So we opted to move baseball to the fall,” Nerland said. “The weather really is better in September. The other benefit is availability of high school teams to work with their feeder schools.”
He said high school coaches can help out with the middle school teams — and so can high school players.
“As long as an adult (who has passed a) background check is there, high school players can also provide training,” Nerland said. “We’ll take advantage of that this fall.”
Baseball and softball are both outsourced activities, meaning they are run by organizations other than the Anchorage School District. The Alliance runs baseball, and the Anchorage Sports Association is in charge of softball.
For the Alliance, sponsoring middle school baseball is an investment in the future. Scores will be kept and each game will have a winner and a loser, “but these aren’t hard-core high school players who are going to play in the driving rain,” Nerland said.
“We’re trying to get them interested and have fun,” he said. “Eighth-graders can play on Legion JV teams, so that’s kind of our hope.”
The diamond is smaller than in regulation baseball — 80 feet between bases instead of 90 feet; 54 feet between the pitching mound and home plate instead of 60 feet, 6 inches. Pitchers will be limited to 80 pitches per day.
In the spring of 2019, the middle school baseball program drew enough players for 17 teams, meaning some of the district’s 10 middle schools fielded more than one team, Nerland said. The softball program fielded 10 or 12 teams, he said.
By having separate seasons, girls will be able to compete in both sports.
“We want girls to play too, so maybe some of the softball girls that maybe don’t have anything in the fall, they can be out there,” Nerland said. “We already have some girls signed up.”
Middle-schoolers can sign up at alaskalegion.com. They are required to get the same sports physical required of students who participate in Anchorage School District sports, and that paperwork should be turned in at school.