If you happen to be at the church league softball championship tournament this weekend in Aberdeen, make sure that you thank Tom Meyer if you see him.
Meyer runs church league softball in Aberdeen and has been doing so since 1990.
“My wife and I moved to town and we were getting acclimated to the community,” Meyer said. “Aberdeen had a number of softball leagues.”
Meyer said he was looking for something a little different. Something in between picnic softball and high-level city leagues with sponsors.
“When I was in high school I had played in a co-ed softball team with the area churches with the high school youth group,” Meyer said.
So Meyer approached the then-pastor, Eldon Reich, at First United Methodist Church.
“Pastor Reich said go for it,” Meyer said. “He thought it would be a great idea to pursue. I went ahead and took it from there. I found out contacts with the area churches and sent out letters to see who was interested.”
It started relatively small. Meyer said there were six teams the first year.
“We played at Manor Park and Brown Park,” Meyer said. “We didn’t even play at the regular softball fields.”
Everything grew from there.
“The second year we started playing at the ball diamonds,” Meyer said. “The most teams we ever had was 27, but year-to-year we’ve had 16-20 teams a year on average. We had a few years in the 24-25 range, but usually in the upper teens.”
The teams aren’t exclusively from Aberdeen anymore, either.
“We currently have a team from Groton and one from Mellette,” Meyer said. “We have had teams from Hecla. We’ve had teams from some of the rural churches.”
Meyer added that he didn’t reach out to any of the churches from out of town.
“That was just word of mouth,” Meyer said. “Truth be told, I haven’t really done any outreach the last few years. It’s been more word of mouth. From time to time I’ll get an email or a text from teams that are interested and that’s how we pick up teams.”
Having more teams is great, but the logistics and the details become more important then, too.
“The biggest thing is doing the outreach to see who’s interested and doing the schedule,” Meyer said. “Once the schedule is out, you have to make sure you have the softballs and contact concessions. We have to make sure we have enough space and time for everybody. It’s the administrative stuff.”
Meyer even helps out umping.
“During the regular season we use volunteer umps and they ump their own games,” Meyer said. “That’s what I do. I umpire as needed.”
One thing that’s changed over the years is adding separate divisions. Originally, there was just one large division.
“To make it more balanced, we had a few years with two divisions,” Meyer said. “As we grew in numbers, we went to three divisions. We’ve had three divisions for the last few years.”
Multiple divisions help maintain competitive balance.
“It makes it more interesting because a lower-skilled team isn’t going up against a team with savvy veterans,” Meyer said. “We aren’t out for blood and nobody wants to see 25-3 games. It happens at times, but different divisions mitigates that some, especially when you get to tournaments.”
Running everything keeps Meyer busy enough that he doesn’t play or coach in the league anymore.
“I used to play and manage my church’s team,” Meyer said. “It was one team, but the last few years it’s been two teams. The last three years I’ve given up the playing and coaching for my church. It used to be more time consuming when I was playing and coaching along with managing everything.”
With all the time and experience Meyer has gained running everything for three decades, what kind of advice would he give his past self 30 years ago?
“If I had to say something, I’d say, ‘Look out at what you’re getting into,’ but in a positive way,” Meyer said. “That’s how I know a lot of people in the community. I know them or they’ll see me and say, ‘Hey you’re at church league softball.’ That’s how I’ve gotten to know so many people.”
Some of the relationships built span multiple generations.
“We’ve got people now that are second or third generation doing this,” Meyer said. “We’ve got people that are the children or grandkids of people from the early days. That’s been the rewarding thing. The softball is the softball. That’s fun, but it’s really about meeting all the people.”
Meyer said he isn’t planning on retiring any time soon, but he would like someone to groom and eventually take over things.
“I would like to bring someone along side to be ready to take over whenever that time comes and to be ready to take the reins,” Meyer said. “I’m not looking to quit, but let’s talk. I started the league and I’ve been running it. If something happens and I can’t do it, I’d hate to not have someone else to take it and run with it. “
Meyer added that running everything isn’t as difficult as he makes it sound.
“I don’t want to make it sound like it’s a huge daunting task,” Meyer said. “It isn’t. Like anything else, after you’ve done it for a while, it gets easier. It wouldn’t hurt to get some fresh blood and fresh ideas, too.”