School Baseball League Begins in Belgrade
Posted on 26 May, 2011 by kcorona
After arriving in Belgrade last week, I noticed that many changes had occurred (baseball related) since the last time I had been here. Most of the changes were very apparent from the beginning. The sole baseball field in Serbia, located on Ada Ciganlija in Belgrade, was in better shape. More people seemed to stop by to see what was going on during games. There were more players on each team that competed this past weekend and there were many more youth spectators. However, what took place after the adult league game on Saturday is the one improvement that mattered most. About 20 kids, ages 10-12, flooded the baseball field, even with a light rain present, to see and practice baseball on a real baseball field for the first time.
The children enthusiastically participated in various drills which not only warmed them up for their short practice to follow, but allowed them to get familiar with the dimensions of a baseball field. Many kids were in awe of how big the field actually is, and though the field is not in pristine condition, they were amazed at the beauty of the field. After being lead through various drills which focused on catching and throwing, the children were divided into two teams and played a mini-game on a shortened field. Not only were baseball fundamentals explained, but hustle and sportsmanship were also a focus of the practice. By the end of the day, the children were pleading for more, which was very inspiring for all involved.
The children who participated in this practice are part of a newly implemented school league which is being headed by Baseball League of Belgrade. The school league is a program that began earlier this year, which president of the league, Milan “Ciki” Zonić, has taken a hands-on approach to, having visited three primary schools in Belgrade to present the sport during P.E. classes. The new league allows children to play baseball on behalf of their school, in which they get to choose their team name, participate in practices during their P.E. class, and practice once weekly on the actual baseball field at Ada Ciganlija. The league will conclude with a tournament, in which medals will be given to the children and awards for best skills will be handed out. The winning school wins a “baseball package” for their school, which will include bats, baseballs, gloves, and catcher’s gear. For the tournament, children will receive a shirt with their school and team name printed on it as well as a hat. The whole league is provided at no cost for the children.
After learning about this new program, I met with Zonić to get some more details. He explained that the league has been a huge success thus far, especially since he entered into the school presentations with no expectations. He has presented baseball to P.E. classes in three areas of Belgrade: Čukarica, Vraćar, and Novi Beograd. After the first week of presentations, nearly 50 children from Čukarica showed up for the first weekend practice that was held in their school gymnasium. The other two schools had about 20 children show up for the weekend practice. These numbers have been proven to be quite sufficient, and at times a challenge, for Zonić and Nikola Vučević (who is assisting in the project), to handle. With the great response from children of these three schools, the hope is that some parents take a serious interest in the sport as well, and begin to help out with individual teams. The SBDA will be able to provide coaching materials, clinics, and online media to help parents become familiar with the sport.
The news of the newly formed school league is very encouraging for the SBDA. Belgrade alone houses more than 185 elementary schools, and Zonić and Vučević plan to expand the league in the fall to at least 8 more schools. Youth baseball in Serbia has proven to be somewhat of a year-round sport. In the winter, Serbia is home to one of the biggest, if not the biggest, indoor youth tournament in Eastern Europe, which is annually held in Novi Sad. These sport bubbles and gymnasiums allow for practices to continue throughout the months when the weather limits outdoor activity.
With the introduction of this new school league in Belgrade, the development and establishment of youth baseball in Serbia has taken a huge step forward. The SBDA will continue to work alongside these newly formed and upcoming leagues and teams to continue to establish baseball in Serbia. With the SBDA’s summer period already starting off on a good note, we hope to make more positive strides in the establishment of youth baseball.