Girdwood’s Little League Season and Field Naming
By Emily Maxwell
Living outside of Anchorage can present some logistical challenges for Girdwood’s young athletes and their parents. Luckily for Girdwood kids wanting to play little league baseball, Anchorage’s Abbott-O-Rabbit (AOR) Little League is happy to accommodate.
“Teams travel down here to play us one day a week. Girdwood’s always petitioned to have their own team which is unique because all the other teams play in town,” said Kyle Kelley, Girdwood Service Area Manager and machine pitch coach. Machine pitch allows kids from 6-8 years old to get a feel for the game before moving onto the minors team.
“One thing that’s so unique about Girdwood is that we have such strong community support,” says Kelley. “The parents are really involved, they help the coach, they help by coming out for practices. In town, they look for more parent involvement, so it’s just a sense of what Girdwood already is with that strong community spirit.”
In Girdwood, the Little League teams are split up into minors and majors, with minors roughly age 8-9 and majors age 9-11. The teams finished up a strong season this summer with two of its major league members advancing to the All-Star team in Anchorage. Henry Lantz and Carson Hawes made the 10-11 AOR All Star team which went on to win the state tournament. Hardy Wade of the minors team also made the 8-10 All Star team.
Dan Shantz, who has coached baseball in Girdwood since 2002 when his son began playing, echoed Kelley’s sentiment regarding Girdwood’s tremendous support for the teams.
“The little league teams are a community-run organization, and the last three years have shown the highest participation. No parents missed a game all season this year.”
Shantz said past and present sponsors of Girdwood’s team include Alyeska Resort, Forest Fair, Lions Club and Girdwood 2020.
Aside from sponsors, Girdwood teams support themselves through food sales at the ball field snack shack and through volunteer efforts. “All the proceeds from the snack shack go back to buying uniforms and equipment and we also use that money to keep the field prepared,” said Kelley. Field maintenance includes occasional replacement of fencing, upkeep of the dugouts and the use of weed-resistant dirt in the infield.
While Shantz says he has enjoyed coaching over the years, he admits he is looking for a replacement. He feels it’s time to step down and is currently building a house in Anchorage with his son, who was his motivation to start coaching 17 years ago.
“We have a lot of great support from Abbott-O-Rabbit and the community, hopefully next year someone will be willing to lead the ship.”
A handful of Girdwood’s Little League players have gone on to play high school and, occasionally, college baseball. Sladen Mohl was one of those players. He began playing baseball with Girdwood’s team and fell in love with the sport. He eventually went on to play at South Anchorage High School where he also helped coach young players at baseball camps. While playing for the Anchorage Bucs, a college summer baseball team in Anchorage, he got to know the coach at El Camino Community College (ECC) in Southern California and transferred there as their starting catcher. On April 18, Mohl was tragically killed by a drunk driver while standing on a street corner in California.
“Everybody loved him,” said ECC coach Nathan Fernlay. “You couldn’t look at him and not smile.”
Now, a group of Girdwoodians are asking that the baseball field be named in Mohl’s honor. In a letter to Kelley, the group states: “To commemorate this outstanding young man, we would like to name the baseball field the “Sladen J Mohl Memorial Field.” In addition, we would like to erect a sign by the field to recognize this. Funds to design, construct and install the sign would be raised by community members with help from Girdwood Little League and friends and family of Sladen.” Betty Charnon, one of the organizers of the project, says that Girdwood can keep an eye out for fund-raising opportunities in the near future.