On a national level, youth baseball participation is down by a decent percentage, but the Amateur Athletic Union has experienced nothing but unsurpassed growth in its baseball program. With recent initiatives put in place over the last couple years, AAU has expanded its organization significantly. In fact, it’s drawing more leagues to its events than ever before, with an abundance of teams vying for a lucrative spot in many of AAU’s tournaments.
AAU is a non-profit sports organization that has been around for over 100 years. It has become one of the most established youth sports foundations in the United States and continually strives to build its programs and remain one of the fiercest competitors in youth sports. AAU has over 500,000 participants and more than 50,000 volunteers, but it is still determined to increase that number through its many leagues, including its promising baseball program.
Debra Horn, sports manager of AAU baseball and softball, Debra Horn speaks enthusiastically about the new initiatives implemented to the baseball program. “We’ve been actively looking for a new national chair and recruiting new directors,” she said. “We have spent a lot of time discussing what has worked and what hasn’t, and we’ve made the changes we feel will help the program the most.”
One of the those changes is adding a second set of nationals apart from the original Grand Nationals, which is held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. According to Horn, the Grand Nationals sells out every year, so introducing a second tournament just made sense. The East Coast Nationals will take place in July in at Heritage Park in Greenville, S.C.
Another alteration AAU made was to the league age groups. “We found that only 30 percent of kids playing baseball at 12 were still playing at the high school level, and we felt that pool was too small,” said Horn. The organization created two new groups: the Underclassman, which includes all high school grade levels except seniors; and the Upperclassman, which includes seniors. The AAU saw an immediate increase in players, with a significant jump in the 15 to 16 age group, according to Horn. It appears that the implementations are having the desired effect, especially when it comes to the number of teams interested in tournament play.
Some of AAU’s most popular and well-attended baseball events include the 14 and under Super Showcase, which features the nation’s best in that age group. Each team is guaranteed at least five games, and it is a single elimination structure. There is also an All-Star game coached by former pro players. However, it is by invitation only, and only 10 teams receive that honor. It is this kind of exclusivity and privilege that gets the competitive juices flowing for youth baseball players, and it is why so many players are joining the organization.
Not only are more teams forming, but cities and sports commissions are interested in getting in on the action. While the Grand Nationals and the Super Showcase are always held at the ESPN Complex, the East Coast Nationals will change locations every year, providing a great opportunity for athletic facilities and programs around the country to bid for the big event. Horn said the AAU is even planning to host a West Coast Nationals in 2012, and cities can start bidding for that soon. Sports commissions can contact Horn for a bid package, or attend the national convention in Hawaii to give a bid presentation.
AAU baseball is a successful and competitive program that easily rivals many of the other youth organizations in the country. At the New Era National Youth Baseball Championships, which crowns the champions of the 10 and under and 12 and under leagues from the eight major youth sports organizations, AAU has won at least one of those age groups every year since the tournament began back in 2008. With this kind of drive, determination, skill and passion, the AAU baseball program continues to expand and grow, forming more teams and recruiting more facilities to host state qualifiers, league championships, regional qualifiers and, of course, national championships.