In the fall of 2020, with much of the Oakdale community locked down and Oakdale schools providing state-mandated at-home, online education to the community’s youth, many local parents became quite concerned about both the physical and mental/emotional well-being of their children.
“Several parents didn’t want their kids caged up,” said Oakdale High School mathematics teacher and former Mustang baseball coach Dwayne Haakma in a recent interview. Haakma used personal initiative by tapping into America’s National Pastime for a solution to that conundrum by creating a youth baseball program.
The Oakdale Baseball and Softball Association, a mainstay of youth sports in Oakdale for many years, as were many youth sports groups nationally, was not in operation during the pandemic; so Haakma created an alternative program with an ages 9 and under baseball team.
With 12 players, the Oakdale Broncos were born with a series of practices at Oakdale’s Cottles Woods Park. During practices “we followed all the COVID-19 protocols” by mandating 6-foot separation of players among other things, noted Haakma. “The problem was, we had no one to play. We did not know at the time that there were underground tournaments in the Fresno area and other places, so we missed out on those opportunities.” Nevertheless, the practices got those 12 players out into the fresh air, exercising and socializing, thereby enhancing their physical and mental wellbeing.
By the spring of 2021, as pandemic protocols began to ease a bit, the Broncos had grown to 17 players lured mostly by word of mouth from siblings and friends. Out of the 17 players, Haakma created two teams: the original 9 and under team and a new 8 and under Rookies team.
“The Rookies team involved younger children and was a team where players pitched to other players for the first time.”
The program in which the Broncos participate is a “Much more advanced game,” compared to teams formed under the auspices of Little League Baseball. For example, baserunners from the 9 and under division and older are permitted to lead off bases and steal as they do in the Major Leagues rather than waiting for the ball to pass the batter before a steal can be attempted.
By the summer of 2021, the Broncos were comprised of two teams that engaged in league play at both Rainbow Fields in Riverbank and the Mistlin Sports Park near Ripon. The 9 and under team had become a semi-travel team playing in a few tournaments throughout the summer and fall in addition to league play, while the 8 and under Rookie team just played within their league during the summer.
“We try to keep the travel part local for the most part to mitigate travel costs, but we will play in a tournament where we go away in the early summer, which we will use as a bonding opportunity,” said Haakma.
In the fall of 2021, the players advanced in age groups as the 9 and under group became a 10 and under group, and began playing a season that encompassed nine months of the year with more tournaments. Some players did opt to play football or soccer in the fall; nevertheless, some talented younger players took advantage of the opportunity to play in an older division, moved up, and helped the team to a second-place overall finish in league play.
Haakma went on to express pride in the fact that now, in the fall of 2022, the Bronco program has expanded to at least five baseball teams, from 11 and under down to coach pitch with the possibility for second teams at some ages if the talent and volunteers can support it, and two softball teams for girls (10 and under and 12 and under) that will be getting under way in the spring. When asked whether or not the emergence of the Broncos has created consternation from the Oakdale Baseball and Softball Association (OBSA), Haakma indicated that the two programs are now collaborating with each other in a very positive way.
“One of our problems before was access to facilities,” said Haakma. “Our younger teams were either squatting on fields or practicing on Sunday. This year we met with the president of OBSA and collaborated so that the two programs are now working together. After all, all the kids involved are from Oakdale. The immediate result of that collaboration was blocks of time for the Broncos at Kerr Park (not necessarily sharing all fields) and the Broncos providing a coaching clinic in return for OBSA. We’re both actively looking for other ways to contribute to a positive relationship moving forward.”
Haakma went on to express optimism about the future—and the growth—of the Broncos program in providing an excellent opportunity for the development of competitive baseball and softball skills in Oakdale’s youth.
Tryouts for the Bronco baseball program will be in the November-December time frame while softball tryouts will be sometime in the fall. People interested in learning specific dates and times for tryouts or in simply exploring the Bronco program further should log on to the Oakdale Broncos Facebook page.
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