When it came to the attention of the American Legion Post 14 baseball committee last summer that members of the Lawrence Raiders were paying upwards of $750 a summer to cover various team expenses, the news wasn’t exactly well received.
The committee is composed of old-school baseball men, after all, men who grew up playing Legion ball for nothing more than the cost of their bubble gum, and the idea that a player could be excluded from the nearly century-old program due to his family’s financial situation clashed greatly with what they thought Legion baseball was intended to be.
“Older guys that had played baseball for American Legion for years, guys at the Legion, they didn’t like the idea that these kids had to pay,” said Sam Dixon, chairman of the baseball committee for Post 14. “We just didn’t think it was fair to charge kids to play baseball.”
As a result, the Raiders program has undergone a massive overhaul heading into this weekend’s season-opening tournament in Omaha, Neb.
For the first time in recent history, the “pay-to-play” system has been scrapped, as the local Legion post has agreed to incur the total costs of the team’s participation this summer, footing the bill on everything from travel and food expenses to new equipment and uniforms.
In a way, the committee is turning back the clock.
As select travel teams have sprouted up with increasing regularity throughout the Kansas City area in recent years, often requiring significant monetary contributions from players and their parents in order to participate, many programs have gotten away from the system that existed when many of the current Post 14 members were teenage players coming up through the Legion system.
“We’re just trying to take it back to the old school, where there’s no politics,” said first-year Raiders manager Bryan Wyatt, who replaces Wilson Kilmer. “The kids can just worry about becoming better baseball players.”
The 19-and-under team, the roster of which will feature approximately 15 players — all but one of whom come from either Free State or Lawrence High — will compete in roughly 40-45 games this summer, and while Wyatt admitted that the first year under the new regime likely will be the toughest, he seemed encouraged at the prospect of the program’s future.
“The Raiders, in the past, have been a dominant team,” Wyatt said. “And I’m not going to say it’s going to get back to that in a year, but I told the kids I want to get it back to where it’s a strong, dominant team every year.”
And they’ll do it, Dixon said, while making it affordable to the players.
“Over in Kansas City, some of those parents are paying $1,500 or $2,000, and we just didn’t think that was the way it was supposed to be,” he said. “We’re going to let any kid (have the opportunity to play), no matter if he was born on the other side of the railroad tracks or whatever.”