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The History of Morristown National Little League

The following is an article reprinted from the 1991 League Program. It represents a history of our league from 1951 — 1991, a forty year period. The author is unknown. If anyone would like to research the last 18 years and revise and update this History, please contact any board member.

~ Thanks, Chris Hillebrecht

It all started 40 years ago, right down there at Dempsey Roff Field.
Never heard of Dempsey Roff Field? Well, after the sign got taken down in the late 60’s, people got to calling it Burnham Field and the name stuck. But the story of how that field got its first name is pretty much the story of how the Morristown National Little League got its start.

Once upon a time…
Dempsey Roff Field was named after Cliff Dempsey, a prominent fire-fighter and member of the Optimist Club, and Fred Roff, then Chief of the Morristown Police Department. Dempsey and Roff, along with Bus Griffen, the towns recreation director, and Dr. Sheldon Bennett were what you might call the founding fathers of the Morristown National Little League.

In the spring of 1951, the first Morristown teams, 60 boys in all — answered the call of “Play Ball”. Those original teams were sponsored by the Exchange Club. That organization has sponsored teams every year since then.

People like Doc Glanville, Dolly Verilli, Ted Denman, Larry Waters and Judge R. Sar Mischiara, (who served as League President between 1955 and 1967); all helped Little League grow in our area.

And grow it did. Phenomenally. Those 60 kids who played Morristown National Little League came from as far away as Mount Tabor, Parsippany and Troy Hills. Our league was such a success that in 1953 we were able to donate $1000 to the foundation of Morristown American Little League. In 1961, another area split off and the Morris Plains Little league was born. In all, the area that once provided those original 60 kids in the Morristown National Little League can now boast over 2,000 players in the Morristown National Little League, Morristown American, Morris Plains, and Parsippany East and West Little Leagues.

Growing Pains…
Originally there was just one division in the entire Morristown National League — the Majors. The four teams played a 20 game season. Today, the Major League is divided into two divisions. The first — the Ginty Division was named after John W. Ginty, a former president of the Morris Township Recreation Department and President of the league in 1952 and 1953. (He donated most of the land for the Morris Township recreation complex on Woodland Ave.) The second, the Welsh division, is named after John Welsh who had a lot to do with the growth in its earliest days. By the early 60’s there were so many kids aged from 8-13 who wanted to play ball that the League had to specialize. In 1960, a minor division was formed. Each of the six new teams sported 24 players. Everyone batted, much like today’s minor B regardless of when and where they played.

The newest, least experienced players back then went into the Farm Division in which, (like minor B) every child played two innings per game. Farm division games were -according to a 1963 program, “at Speedwell Avenue Field, opposite lovely Speedwell Lake and near the site where the original wireless was invented by Alfred Vail.”

The Instructional League created to teach 8 and 9 year olds the fundamentals of baseball and sportsmanship was established in 1973.

Once the Morristown American Little League split off from the Morristown Nationals, they became friendly enemies. Today the two leagues never meet except in post-season tournament play. But 35 years ago, National and American All Star teams played an unofficial “home-and-home” series every year for bragging rights of Morristown. The first game was always played at Ginty Field, the American’s home field, on Memorial Day. The second was always played at Burnham…oops…or Dempsey Roff Field on the Fourth of July.

The Big Time...
Speaking of Dempsey Roff Field, just imagine it with extra bleachers set up all along the left and right field lines and even behind the outfield fence. Then imagine cars parked bumper to bumper along Burnham Parkway and even Washington Street. And you can begin to imagine what it was like when Morristown hosted 2,000 fans at the national Little League Connecticut/new Jersey Divisional Tournament in 1963. (Our Lions Club squad lost to the Stamford, CT team that eventually nailed down second place in the World Series at Williamsport.)

In 1964, over 3,000 fans came to Morristown and Dempsey Roff Field to watch teams from Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island in the National Little League Eastern Regional Tournament. The winner, a Staten Island team, went on to win the World Series.

Does Anybody Feel a Draft...
Nowadays, the Morristown National Little League player draft works basically like the pro drafts. The team that comes in last picks first and vice versa. But it wasn’t always that way. Back before 1971 drafting was done on a point system. Each manager had 10,000 points to “spend” in bidding on players. (Some Little Leagues around the country still use this system.) He could blow most of his point on one “Superstar” or spread them around and get a bunch of players. He could even carry unused points over from one year to the next. This system was abandoned for the present one because it was too easy for a manager to stack a team.

Horray for Hollywood...
In 1976, the Morristown National Little League went show biz. The Majors’ Township Police and Fairchild Fire teams were caught on film right down at Burnham Field for a sequence in an NBC television special. The program called “A Little Bit Different” was about a boy, and avid athlete, who plays baseball. He injures himself sliding into home plate and is subsequently found to have a form of bone cancer in his leg. The film focuses on his courage through the ordeal of surgery and other medical treatments.

The game that was filmed featured three child actors, including one of the kids in “The Bad News Bears”. Fred Mandato, president of the league at the time got permission for the filming from national Little League Headquarters in Williamsport. The film also featured Morristown Memorial Hospital, where the injured boy was taken for treatment.

The Dynasty Decade...
Dynasty. It is a word that sports writers use to describe the Yankees of the 40’s and 50’s. The Celtics of the 60’s and 70’s. The 49ers, The Fighting Irish. And when you are talking about the 80’s, it is exactly the right word to use for Morristown National Little League.

That’s because no Little League organization in the state of New Jersey came close to matching Morristown National’s domination of post-season tournament play from 1981-1991.

It almost sounds like a broken record. Our 12 year old All Stars, for example, captured ten of last 12 district titles. And nine of the last 12 Section one title’s. This means of course, that they have been in New Jersey’s Final Four in nine of the last twelve years. In those nine appearances, they have captured the brass ring and the right to represent The Garden State in the East Regional’s twice — in 1982 and 1985. Most of the other times they finished now worse than second.

In 1984, the best show in New Jersey Little League came right here to Morristown. We were selected to host that year’s state finals. Ironically, ’84 proved to be one of the very few years we did not make it to the final four. It was our first big tournament since the mid 60’s and the questions kept popping up; “where would we put all the fans, where to house the visiting players?”

No problem. A flock of volunteers descended on the field to build our press box and the deck that supports it. And to give the stands a fresh coat of paint. We borrowed enough extra bleachers to stretch the length of both foul lines. Some 22 Morristown National Families hosted players from Palisades Park, Cherry Hill American, Roberto Clemente, and Spring Lake / Sea Girt teams.

We put up a food tent. And in two days, sold 723 Hamburgers, 541 Hot Dogs, 1,113 cups of soda, 330 Dixie cups, enough candy to guarantee five fillings to every dentist in Morristown and enough sauerkraut, ketchup and mustard to punish every ulcer in the county.

Our 12-year old All Stars get the lion’s share of the press, but our ten-year old teams have put together a pretty impressive record of their own over t he past decade. Five times they have come home with the Morris County Tournament Championship. And they have consistently been big winners in annual tournaments in Basking Ridge and Piscataway.

A Major League Decision...
In 1989, the League decided to address a long standing problem. The decision would make Morristown National Little League history.

The problem was that although lots of girls entered the league at the Instructional level, their numbers tapered off dramatically at all other levels. Girls therefore were missing out on the unique experience that is Little League. We were simply not addressing their needs.

The answer was Softball. What was needed was for the Morristown National Little League to take the initiative and establish a program. We fielded our first softball team — four of them — in 1989. Now three years old, our softball program is poised to expand dramatically. Through a special agreement, girls from the Morristown American side of town will now be able to participate in our program. The means more players better competition, and all the other great things that are part and parcel of Little League at its best.

Renovating a field of dreams...
In August 1991, a decision was reached that the major league playing field was in desperate need of repair. The field sits on what was once a dumping site for the ashes of steam locomotive railroad engines, which once were a common means of travel throughout Morris county. Through the years the compacted ash had settled causing many undulations on the playing field.

The old sideline fencing was removed to make way for the earth moving equipment donated by the Cornine Contracting Company. Sixty truck loads of fill, donated by the Point Construction Company were brought in, spread and compacted to eliminate the four foot difference in elevation that existed from one side of the field to the other side. Along with this major work on the field, it was decided to install an in-ground sprinkler system to insure the growth of the 600 pounds of grass seed required for the field. N added advantage for the sprinkler system is that now we are able to water the field and eliminate the hard, sun baked surfaces that cause unsafe conditions for the players.

“The best laid plans often go….” Mother nature did not fully cooperate with our efforts and we can into March 1991 with no grass. A massive volunteer effort was expended, but the field was not ready for play on opening day, April 20th. Morris Township’s Recreation director, Peggy Adams came to our rescue and opened Veteran’s field for our temporary use.

On May 11th everything was ready for Morristown National Little League to begin play on the newly renovated Major League Field at Burnham Park. After a brief re-dedication ceremony attended y Morristown Council President Kathleen Margiotta and councilmen Jay Delaney, Butch Barber and Donald Cresitello, Morristown National was home again for another exciting season of Little League Baseball.

The renovation of Burnham Field was a massive effort. The dream became a reality mainly through the efforts of Dick O’Donnell who orchestrated the efforts of everyone involved and who dealt with the town officials to ensure their full support. To Dick and the numerous volunteers, the League extends its gratitude.

The Next Forty Years...
That’s pretty much the story of the Morristown Little League up until now. Mostly it is a story about people. Without the foresight of men like Cliff Dempsey and Fred Roff, without the dedication of the twelve men who have served as league president over the past 40 years, without the help of hundreds of men who have put in long hard and not always appreciated hours as managers and coaches, and of the hundreds of women who have also served tirelessly, our League would never be the success it is today.

And as long as that spirit stays with us, we can expect the next 40 years to be just as successful. But that’s another story.