The Braves of the Bronco Division warm up after the PONY Baseball Opening Day ceremonies at Kyrene Akimel A-al Middle School on Saturday, March 23, 2013.

[David Jolkovski/AFN]

Parent and Ahwatukee resident Chris Kelly said being able to see his two boys get the opportunity to play community ball is more than just pleasing, but an answered prayer.

“The thing I was praying about was that something was going to change,” said Kelly, after hearing the news that the Kyrene School District would no longer charge add-on costs to the Ahwatukee Foothills Pony Baseball Association, possibly dismantling next spring’s season. “We would have had to disband and try to explain to our kids they would possibly not play in the spring.”

After a series of meetings with Pony baseball as well as Ahwatukee Little League and other community leaders, Kyrene’s governing board voted last Tuesday to drop its use of facilities rates by more than half, offering a more affordable cost structure for organizations to use district fields. The youth sports organizations frequently use fields at Kyrene middle schools in Ahwatukee, namely Akimel A-al, as well as other fields in the area.

“There are so many good people in our community, and this is just an example of when a community comes together to get things done,” Kelly said.

With his eldest son, Sam, 17, playing on Pony’s Champions team for youth with special needs, and his younger son, Jack, 10, on Ahwatukee Little League, Kelly said the teams have played a huge role for his sons.

“(Sam) absolutely loves it, and will count down the days when he gets to play,” said Kelly, who helped start the special needs division team. “It’s also the only special needs team in the East Valley, so it’s special.”

With a lack of baseball fields as a common concern among parents in the community, both Little Leagues serve nearly 800 kids in Ahwatukee.

Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio said the city is now looking at how to offer more parks for the area.

“It won’t happen this summer, but we have a plan that we’ll be looking at instituting,” he said. “Baseball is growing in the area and it’s all interdependent on each other.”

Fellow resident, parent and former coach Dave Bittner said the Kyrene fields are much needed to accommodate each of the league’s teams and games.

“There just aren’t enough, if you go there on any week night or weekend, they are packed,” he said. “We really need the schools.”

Bittner’s two sons also play on the Little Leagues, one in Pony and the other for Ahwatukee Little League. As a baseball parent for the past five years, Bittner said being involved with youth sports is also a plus for the parents.

“When you play a baseball league, all of the families know each other,” he said. “It’s such an electric atmosphere.”

Noting that his kids have developed social skills and have gained many friendships from participating in the leagues, Bittner said it was a “pleasant and happy” surprise to know that his kids are set for the spring.

“Their lives has been changed for the good.”

For more information about the leagues, visit or

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or

Follow her on Twitter @dmartinezAFN.

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