Having played high school athletics and used part of my summer breaks traveling all over Oklahoma to play golf, I understand how critical the months of June through August really are.
That’s why I have supported the Red Dirt League and championed its causes for more than a decade with the schools the Tribune covers that are not in the league.
The RDL was created in 2006 with a league goal “to allow for greater flexibility in summer scheduling for teams and coaches.”
The draw for the league was the fact it was played in just the month of June, games were in the evenings and the end of the campaign was capped off with a postseason tourney.
However, with all the rainouts this summer and the exit of some of the more visible founding schools such as Blanchard, I’m wondering if the league is now playing on borrowed time.
“I’ve visited with other coaches and I know we have talked about it every year. No one knows really any better way of doing things,” said El Reno head coach Keith Hill.
One of the common hurdles of the RDL is that schools must decide on how many teams they want in the league for summer by March 1 to get the early discount of $125 per team.
The fee jumps up to $150 per squad from March 2 to April 30 and then to $200 per team for any fees not paid by May 1.
Hill says El Reno, like many schools, prefer to pay early and get the discount. It’s a gamble due to the fact El Reno has struggled for years to get enough players come June to fill out the roster.
“We’ve got so many things going on and then you’ve got kids that say they want to play and then summer rolls around and they can’t because they have to work,” said Hill.
The numbers game caught up with one of the Guthrie and Putnam City North junior high teams which folded after the season kicked off. Hill also said one of the Mustang teams also disbanded.
“They’ve got so many teams at Mustang playing, it’s hard to tell which one did fold but I know they did have one team. When you’ve got teams in Class 4A, 5A and 6A folding, it’s bad, and it’s been an issue for years,” said Hill.
With the RDL being a June-only league, we have found out this summer that weather plays a major issue. The postseason tourney was set to begin this weekend, but many schools have played less than 10 games.
“I talked with Heritage Hall and I think he said they have played only once this summer. We’ve played six games and I think most teams are in the same situation,” said Hill.
El Reno was slated to play four varsity doubleheaders at the Hub Reed Complex and three on the road for a total of 14 games before the postseason. Due to Mother Nature, the Indians have played four games at home and two on the road.
The postseason tourney presents problems since many teams have players who double up on travel squads. El Reno has elected not to play in the RDL postseason because it will not have enough players.
“The tourney was supposed to start Thursday and run through Sunday or Monday. That's the time slot for travel ball and we’ve got several players who will be gone, so we will not have enough pitching,” said Hill.
Given all these hurdles, maybe it’s time that El Reno and the rest of Canadian County coaches pull up to the table and create their own independent summer league.
There are seven schools that play baseball inside the county and if you played a doubleheader against each of those teams just one time, that would be 12 games. Rivalries like Calumet and Union City, El Reno and Piedmont and Yukon and Mustang may want to add a home and away slate for more games.
Calumet and Union City already play independent schedules, with the Tigers having put 12 games into the summer win-loss columns.
“I just call around and try to schedule games. I will play larger schools as long as it’s against their junior varsity teams so that we can compete better,” said Union City head coach Ludy Griggs.
Union City has played JV teams from Moore, Deer Creek, Norman and Norman North so far this summer.
Griggs said he would consider joining a Canadian County league.
“I would because it would be right here in our own back door and it would be better than having to travel so far. I might not be able to compete against some of the larger schools but the summer is all about getting at bats and innings in the field rather than the score,” said Griggs.
Griggs even suggested a league with no score kept.
“You can always just turn off the scoreboard and work on your hitting and fundamentals,” said Griggs.
Hill agrees with even more possibilities.
“No score, no lineup cards and free substitutions. You want to use the summer to try kids at different positions and work on different scenarios,” said Hill.
The Red Dirt League is a good league, I still believe that, but given all the troubles this summer, would it not hurt El Reno to pursue other options? I’m not saying coaches should rip up the paper on the drawing board and start over, just make some notes on the margins and give it some serious thought.
What would it hurt for county coaches to get together over dinner and talk it over? I know it would be cheaper than a $150 league fee.