Categorized | Baseball, Community, News, Softball, Sports

J.D. Engler leaving game but not before making mark on local youth sports

JENNIFER FIERRO • PICAYUNE STAFF

J.D. Engler

J.D. Engler served as president of the Marble Falls Youth Baseball and Softball Association from 2002-11. During that time, the association changed from Little League to Protect Our Nation’s Youth league, rebuilt numerous fields after the 2007 flood and created the Rotary Park complex. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro

MARBLE FALLS — Friends weren’t surprised to learn J.D. Engler wanted to officially leave the Marble Falls Youth Baseball and Softball Association as quietly as executing a suicide squeeze.

But when someone voluntarily stays as a youth association president for a decade while helping hundreds of young players, it’s difficult to simply hold open the gate on his way out.

On May 30, Engler left his position on the board for the association to which he dedicated many years.

“The man has been so dedicated,” former board member Kathy Steffek said. “He never wanted it to be about him; he wanted it to be about the league. He said, ‘Everything I do, I do it for those kids.’”

Engler was president during some major events, such as when the fields had to be changed for the association to become a member of Protect Our Nation’s Youth (PONY) league and when 19 inches of rain overnight in 2007 damaged many of those fields.

Steffek said Engler was the right president for the task in working with the city of Marble Falls to get the fields ready quickly, noting fencing and parts of concession and restroom buildings had to be replaced.

But more than that, fans sometimes have conflicting philosophies when it comes to youth sports. Should a youth association strive to create squads that encompass the best in each age group to compete against opponents who have similar skills with the aim of winning every game? Or should a youth association be a place where all youth, no matter their skill levels or gender, are introduced to the sport where scores aren’t always kept and everybody gets a chance to play?

“J.D. wanted to make sure the league stayed pure by being a recreational league and that all kids had the opportunity to play,” said former association board member Andy Hoffmans. “He always said that if a kid wanted to learn how to play, they deserved the opportunity.”

Steffek said Engler didn’t want a family’s economic situation to determine whether a child played. So he worked out a trade by lowering the cost enough for them to pay and offset the remaining balance by allowing parents to donate their time to help maintain fields, work extra shifts in the concession stands or help with other league needs.

Hoffmans noted Engler and board members approved of families who chose to enroll their children in select teams to give them better competition and to improve. But they believed the role of MFYBSA was to remain an association that emphasized learning the fundamentals.

And Steffek said Engler remained committed to that, even if it meant not allowing select teams to use MFYBSA facilities.

“A lot of people would suggest he wasn’t for them, but that’s not it,” she said. “If they stepped in and took our fields, where would that leave our kids? He was going to look out for our kids first.”

And changing to PONY League wasn’t easy either. But Engler and the board members realized the PONY rules better mirrored the rules of the University Interscholastic League, the governing body of public high school sports in the state.

Since baserunners could get a lead and steal as soon as the pitcher threw the ball, fields had to be changed, particularly the pitcher’s mounds.

“It was more like a freedom than a major transition,” Hoffmans said.

Hoffmans also credited Engler with the creation of Rotary Park. In the early 2000s, the complex had one field that was used for extra practices. Behind that were two open fields that T-ball teams used for a total of three fields.

“Kids would pick up a ball, and it had stickers on it,” Hoffmans said.

Where some saw waste, Engler saw wasted space that wasn’t used to its fullest.

So Engler spoke with Stan Lewis of Lewis Construction and asked him to level a hill and “push dirt throughout a summer to get what you have now,” Hoffmans said.

Which is a complex with four fields where T-ball, coach-pitch and softball teams can play. Before, a dozen softball teams shared only one field, the VFW park. And thanks to the local Rotary clubs, a building with restrooms, a concession stand and a meeting room also is located at the four-field complex.

“That was his baby,” Hoffmans said. “We had the kids and needed the space.”

MFYBSA president Erik Smith said the board still feels Engler’s influence.

“He was someone who cared about all the children, and that’s a great quality to have,” he said. “He made sure everyone was treated the same. I followed a lot of J.D.’s ideas. I think J.D. set a good example.”

jfierro@thepicayune.com

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