Touchstone Story #54–Lions and Little League

Little League is the largest youth sports organization in the world, but it started with one man, two kids and a lilac bush.

In the summer of 1938, Carl Stotz, a clerk at an oil company in Williampsort, Pennsylvania, tossed a baseball around the yard with his two young nephews.

Chasing a runaway ball, Stotz scraped his ankle on the pointy stems of a trimmed lilac bush. In frustration, he asked his nephews, “How would you like to play on a regular team, with uniforms, a new ball for every game, and bats you could really swing?”

Stotz’s nephews loved the idea, of course. But they asked, “Who would we play?”

Thus, the idea for Little League was born. Stotz called in a squad of volunteers and business sponsors. He carved the first Little League home plate himself, and the plates for first, second and third base were white canvas stuffed with wood shavings. When Little League’s coffers came up short, Stotz poured his own money in to make up the difference. He had considered the ministry in his younger days, but with Little League—and this particular service to his community—he’d found his life’s purpose.

A decade of service, naturally, brought him to the Lions. Stotz joined the Williamsport Newberry Lions Club in 1949, and the Lions in turn worked to support Little League. Both organizations saw unprecedented growth in the 1950s and ’60s. The pages of LION Magazine featured numerous articles on support for the League:

    • The Elyria Lions Club built the first Little League field in Elyria, Ohio, in 1950.
    • A Little League park was built on the Navaho-Hopi Indian Reservation with funds from the Tuba City Lions Club in Arizona in 1957.
    • The Leavenworth Lions of Kansas visited a nearby federal penitentiary for an exhibition game in 1959.

More recently, Lions donations and a grant from the Lions Clubs International Foundation helped build a Little League tournament stadium in Panama.

Stotz parted ways with the Little League organization in 1956, but today there is a statue of Stotz at Volunteer Stadium in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, part of the Little League World Series stadium complex. Stotz’s lifetime of service lives on with every crack of the bat and every cheer from the stands, win or lose, during a Little League game. And of course, all around the country, Lions-sponsored teams and Little League parks are emblematic of the continuing partnership between Little League and Lions.

Explore the dynamic history of Lions Clubs International with our exclusive Touchstone Stories series. They’re a great resource for promoting service at your club meetings!

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