Harper Woods Little League marks 60th season

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published May 7, 2015

 Harper Woods Little League players Max Praet, 7, left, of Harper Woods, and Cam Wilson, 8, center, of Eastpointe, play tag while waiting for the city’s Little League parade on April 25.

Harper Woods Little League players Max Praet, 7, left, of Harper Woods, and Cam Wilson, 8, center, of Eastpointe, play tag while waiting for the city’s Little League parade on April 25.

Photo by Sean Work

HARPER WOODS — Balmy spring days herald the start of something beloved for many in Harper Woods, when children’s laughter can be heard on the baseball fields as they gear up for a new season of Little League.

Generations of children have spent their summers on the fields during 60 years of baseball in Harper Woods.

“For some of us, it is our life,” league Vice President Mark Di Mambro said, adding that he’s been with the league for 27 years. “I love it. I’d be lost without it.”

The league started with baseball, added T-ball in 1979, then softball a decade or so ago.

To commemorate the long history of the league, its organizers noted the anniversary during the annual parade and opening day ceremonies. They also honored Ron DeCoopman, who is commemorating 50 years with the league. He started as a player in the Harper Woods Little League, served as a coach and is now the district administrator.
When asked what makes the league so special, Di Mambro said it is the dedication of the volunteers.

“There’s a lot of us who don’t even have kids in the league anymore,” he said. “Some of them grew up in the league, and they’re still giving back.”

They were players, and now they’re coaches. It is a multigenerational tradition in the community.

One coach’s grandfather was a forefather of the league, Di Mambro said.

They have had some special stories over the years, including many state championships and one boy, Rob Knight, who received national recognition and an appearance on “The Today Show.”

“He threw a perfect game,” Di Mambro said.

The Harper Woods Little League has a reputation for success.

“The City of Harper Woods has always been associated as running a very successful Little League program,” President Tony Talerico said in an email earlier this year. “We offer a very competitive and affordable program for the residents. The school board and all of the schools in the district (including the Eastpointe schools) have been very cooperative with us to spread the word about baseball in the community. The league also provides a structured program that offers consistency for planning for parents and, hopefully, a healthy source of exercise and being part of a team.”

Many people in the community have fond memories of their time with the league, including Mayor Ken Poynter, who was a coach, manager and vice president on the board of directors for several years in the late 1970s and 1980s.

“I remember being at opening day in 1955,” he said.

“It’s always been a good program,” he said.

He also noted the importance of the volunteers to the success of the program.

“It really serves the needs of the Harper Woods kids,” Poynter said. 

Current coach Devin Palmer played for Di Mambro. Palmer said he started playing at age 5 and is now coaching 15 years later.

“It’s been a pretty big part of my life,” Palmer said. “It’s had a really positive impact on me.

“There’s a real sense of community,” he said of the league. “The people (who) volunteer, they’ve been in it for the long run.”

Palmer said Little League taught him more than other sports he played. Players meet friends, learn how to interact with others and learn to work hard to achieve goals, he said.

“It’s more than baseball,” he said. “It’s a good experience.”

After playing as a child, coach Jeff Cichocki has coached his four children through the league. His youngest is now 9 years old.

He has fond memories of his time in the league and enjoys watching his own children experience some of the same wonderful moments.

“It just brought back everything,” he said.

“It was my whole summer,” Cichocki said. “Every summer, you just couldn’t wait to get out and play.

“It was great, and now I’m doing it again,” he said of spending his summers on the fields.
Cichocki said that he now runs into people he played with or against on teams growing up. For instance, during a recent game, one of the umpires had played with him as a child.

Cichocki remembers playing in tournaments.

“When I was 15, we won states,” he said. “That was a great time.

“It’s always been a big part of my life,” he said.