STAMFORD, Conn. – Two of the oldest baseball programs in Stamford have merged for the upcoming Little League season.
Federal Little League has joined National Lione, and all will play under the Stamford National name. Declining participation, an improved house league and the potential for stronger All-Star teams were factors for the organizations, both of which have been around since the early 1950s.
“We had been talks for the past couple of years with other leagues,’’ said Brian Maloney, former president of Federal and now the co-president of the new league with former National Lione president Mike Nicholson. “We made it known we’d be willing to consolidate if it made geographical sense. Lione had a group of guys that wanted to see what could be done to make a better program for both sides. We all wanted something that would be around long after we’re no longer involved.”
Like many youth baseball leagues, participation has dropped as children turn to lacrosse, soccer and other activities for spring. National Lione had about 270 players last year, a drop of from nearly 340 just a few years ago, Nicholson said.
Federal had about 220 players. It had just four teams in its Major Division last year, while National Lione had six. Maloney and Nicholson hope to have 450 to 500 players in the new league.
“We didn’t do it lightly,’’ Nicholson said. “We put in a lot of refurbishments into Scalzi Park in the last few years. The name is important to us, and our history is important. But it was more important to do the right thing for the kids. And that is an opportunity for them to play good baseball. That’s the foremost thing. You want to leave it better than you found it.”
Both teams have distinguished histories. Federal reached the Little League World Series in 1981, and National Lione won one state championship and 10 District One titles. The league started out as Stamford National in 1952 and became National Lione in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Mickey Lione Sr. was one of the first Little League coaches in Stamford. Federal was incorporated in 1953.
Federal’s board suggested the new name. “It was hard to go with a new name, and it wasn’t,’’ Maloney said. “It’s kind of like going back to the past. The kids who will be playing for us now, the name doesn’t mean anything to them. It’s a little different not to have a Federal or a Lione Little League. We just tried to do the right thing and make it all about the kids.”
The merger extends a trend in Stamford toward consolidating Little League programs. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the city had 10 leagues. The Federal-Lione merger leaves just five now.
Registration is open online. Tryouts will be held in March, and the season begins in April.
“I’m sure a lot of people will be looking at us to see how it works out,’’ Nicholson said. “There’s a lot of people that hope we’re successful. It’s not something you do because it’s easy. You do it because it’s the right thing to do.”