Pat Mahr was supervising Little League baseball playoff games last Saturday — just as he’s done for three decades — at Carl Eck Park in Circle Pines.
“Little League is still the largest kids sports organization in the world,” he mused, “which is kind of surprising considering how much soccer is played in all the other countries.”
Mahr, currently in his 30th year as president of Centennial Lakes Little League/Silver Bullets Fast Pitch, takes pride in that, along with the baseball/softball program remaining the No. 1 participation sport for kids locally, too.
“We’ve got about 800 kids, including 300 girls,” he said, adding that “those numbers have been holding pretty steady” even with several other sports going strong in the Centennial district.
Mahr, whose occupation is running a warehouse, has been in charge of the youth leagues since 1989. He coached for a few years, starting when his daughters Jessica and Shelby played.
“I enjoy giving kids better opportunities to play and and better facilities than when I was a kid,” said Mahr. “I enjoy the interaction, too. I coached their mothers, and now I get to watch their kids in the program.”
There was no Little League available when he grew up in Chisago City. As an adult, he played town-team baseball and slow pitch softball for a while.
The organization has 66 teams, with boys age 4-12 playing Little League baseball and girls age 4-18 playing Silver Bullets fast-pitch softball. The boys move on to VFW and Legion ball in their teens.
Each new season actually starts Oct. 1, the fiscal new year, he said, when the board, usually nine or 10 people, starts planning the budget, dates for tryouts, league schedules, and concessions, and other details.
The group generates, and spends, about $200,000 per year, he said, which comes mostly from concessions, along with registration fees, donations and hosting tournaments. Families pay about $220 per kid at the top level; that includes uniforms which they keep.
Mahr said he wishes the city would help out more, but funding from tax dollars is less than it once was for youth sports, as it is for a lot of things. Some assistance came from the Minnesota Twins, whose $10,000 grant in 2011 helped with a $100,000 renovation of the facilities which includes two nice Little League parks.
Jon Tennessen, a Lino Lakes resident who assisted Mahr from 1988 to 2000, when his daughters played softball, offered a tribute to Mahr a letter to Quad News.
“Pat continues to organize and lead the league (as he’s done) for the last 30 some years. Today my grandsons play in the league, and the players are still made to feel that they are the attraction and they are treated as such.”
Mahr was presiding over playoffs for boys 10, 11 and 12 on Saturday and Sunday with all-star teams from Centennial, Shoreview, and St. Paul Parkway competing.
The winners advance to the state tournament, which will be hosted by Centennial from July 24-28. That’s the end for the 10- and 11-year-olds, but the 12-year-old champions advance to a multi-state regional with the ultimate goal of reaching the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA.
Two Centennial teams have advanced within one win of going to Williamsport, Mahr said — in 2001 and 2005. “Both those teams missed by one run,” he said.
Mahr had a chance to visit the LLWS facilities once, by accident.
“My wife and I were vacationing out there, going to Niagara Falls, and we happened to drive through Williamsport, so we stopped in, introduced ourselves, and got the tour.”
Whether Centennial ever gets a team there, it’s guys like Mahr, and organizations like Centennial Lakes Little League, that make it all possible.