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Mar, 2022

Lawrence Little League celebrates 70 years

Source: Lawrence Gazette 

One of the longest running shows in Mercer County sports is turning 70 this year, and the Lawrence Little League is looking to celebrate in a big way. 

The LLL is celebrating its milestone anniversary with Apr. 16 opening-day ceremonies in which the players will wear throwback hats from 1952, and will have a 70th Anniversary patch on their uniform with nearly the same logo as that first year. The party will include a parade, and guests such as Mayor John Ryan, the township council, members of the fire and police departments and Lawrence High softball and baseball coaches Dana Williams and Andrew Septer. 

Perhaps the most impressive invitees will be the descendents of league founder Dr. William Carroll. The late Dr. Carroll’s son Brian, grandson Sean and great-grandson Liam will be on hand to throw out the first ball. All three played in the league, which was started by Dr. Carroll in order to give area kids an opportunity to play baseball in a safe environment.  

Just who was this man who created an institution? 

“He was the last of the country doctors in Lawrence,” Shawn said. “He delivered babies, he fixed limbs, prescribed medications, he was one of the last to make house calls in the area. He lived in town where the Purple Cow is now. His father was the town butcher, the postmaster and he helped start the water company.” 

Unfortunately, Dr. Carroll died at age 50 of rheumatic heart fever. He also had two siblings who passed away much younger from the same condition.   

“That’s why he became a doctor,” said Shawn, a retired Lawrence police officer. “I don’t know if he wanted to cure himself, but he wanted to help people.” 

Shawn never met his grandfather, who died 10 years before he was born. But he knows enough about him.

“He was known to the locals to be a very good man,” Carroll said. “I learned through the years that he delivered many people I knew, including some teachers at the high school that I had, and they would tell me stories about him.” 

Brian Carroll played in the league during the second year of its existence. He remembers vividly what his dad did to get things off the ground.

“He was a kid person, he loved kids,” Brian said. “He was always involved with kids in some manner. How it came about with little league was him saying ‘Hey we don’t have a baseball league here in the township.’ That’s how it started.”

Dr. Carroll contacted the officials in Williamsport, who informed him there was a $2,500 entry fee to become affiliated with Little League Baseball. The good doctor put up the fee with his own money. 

“Back in those days in this township you were either rich or poor, no in between,” Brian said. “You were a hard-working son of a gun or you were a doctor and in those days a doctor was able to make money and do things to be a leader. They would meet in our game room in the cellar to put this thing together.”  

The crew included Dr. Carroll and the original four league managers of Kelly Palumbo, Ed Leadman, Happy Emory and Willard Hughes. Also participating were local residents Steve Mikita and Tom Hutchinson, who didn’t have kids at the time but wanted to help out.

Dr. Carroll was the point man. 

“If something was needed, he could make the phone call better than anyone else and get action,” Brian said. “It was ‘OK doc, I’ll take care of it.’ He relied a lot on his patients to get things started.”  

Once things got underway, the league started on a dirt field donated to them by the township. It was down a dirt road that led from where the board of education building is now, to where the old LHS field hockey field was located. 

In the league’s second year, Dr. Carroll bought a 1948 yellow Volkswagen convertible.

“It was his personality,” Brian said. “He used to love driving that on Tuesday and Thursday nights when the games were played, and every other night he’d go up and water the field sometimes by himself. He enjoyed the peacefulness of it. 

“The field was just dust; it was farmland and it was as dirty as dirt could get. After every game, he drug the field with his Volkswagon with a piece of the old backstop behind it. The winning team got to sit on the screen for a ride, the losing team had to pick up 10 rocks each.”

Things improved as the years went on, to where there are now three 46-60 fields, one 60-90 field and one softball field located at Lawrence Central Park on Eggerts Crossing Road. One of the fields is named after Dr. Carroll. 

“It was very cool to play on the field with his name on the scoreboard,” said Shawn, who played for Park Lane Furniture. “I always wanted to play on that field no matter what. I’ve always been sentimental and I always thought I would play better on that field. I played the same on both fields, but I thought I did better on his field.” 

The fact three generations of Carrolls played in the league and are being acknowledged would have to make the founder proud. Especially considering that a record 300 players have signed up for baseball and softball in an era where travel ball is draining many little league programs of players. 

“I think it just feeds into the community,” said second-year president Paul Alfieri, who has been involved with LLL for six years. “This is something the community wants to have and wants to enjoy. There are so many options with youth sports, so being able to provide little league and all that it brings in terms of trust, safety and community in Lawrence is something the parents really appreciate.

“To be here for 70 years, you always say you stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before you. There has been a lot of work by a lot of people and a lot of teams throughout the years that have kept the league growing.”

Alfieri added that the league continually evolved through the second half of the 20th century, and has continued to do so in the new millennium. 

“Coming out of Covid we’ve had to evolve and reinvent again,” he said. “That’s why we’re able to be here. I think we survive due to participation with the community and the high school. Our mission is to train the kids on the fundamentals that they need if they want to go on and play in middle school and high school. They have that solid foundation.”

He added that the Lawrence High baseball coaches will stop by and do some work with the players, and that the league touches base with Septer and Williams to understand how they run their programs. They then adapt those teachings to the LLL to prepare the players for what is to come. 

“The high school coaches have done a great job partnering with us on this,” said Alfieri, who noted that in addition to opening day, there are several other events to celebrate seven decades of little league service. 

On May 7, the Little League Home Run Derby will come to Lawrenceville for the first time. There will be a DJ on hand and the players will compete to see who can hit the most long balls. For the younger kids who can’t yet go yard, there will be other games to play. 

One month later, on June 7, the Trenton Thunder’s Opening Night will honor the league prior to the game. 

“I think coming out of the pandemic a lot of families are looking for something to celebrate and feel really good about,” Alfieri said. “We spent a lot of time in the off-season talking to them about the 70th Anniversary.”

One alumnus who can’t wait for the fun to begin is Shawn. He played in the league from 1976-78 and was managed by his dad.

“My father pulled me out of T-ball and put me in little league, and I was the only third-grader in the league at the time,” he said. “I was mortified to think I was up against the oldest kids who could throw a curveball and all that stuff when I was trying to hit a ball off the tee. It paid off in the long run. I got better quicker.”

In Carroll’s first year, Lawrence won the second of its three 12-year-old District 12 championships. He wasn’t on the team, but he played against its players.   

“I remember the oldest group was really good,” he said. “I still remember standing at home plate my first at-bat. Bobby Scott was pitching; and he was six-foot even then. He had a mean curveball. I just held the bat on my shoulder, I was afraid to swing.”

Shawn got good enough to make the Lawrence High baseball team, but football was his sport and he went on to the University of Maryland as a place-kicker. 

After graduating, he went into athletic merchandise sales, much like his dad. After living in central Pennsylvania and Bucks County for a while, he returned to Lawrenceville 28 years ago to become part of his parents’ Christmas tree farm business. The operation is still going strong and Liam played on the Carroll’s Christmas Tree Farm team from 2010-12. 

“We won the championship, it was one of the best games I’ve ever seen,” Sean said. “It was won in the last at-bat. Liam was pitching, it was an awesome, awesome game.”

And while none of the Carroll’s ever played on a District 12 champion, the league has had its share in both sports. Baseball won its first in 1962 and that team went on to win the only Section 3 title in league history. It claimed another in 1976 and, after a long drought, won it in 2018 by winning the final two games in walk-off fashion. Two years later LLL reached the 2020 finals. The softball program won four D-12 championships and reached the finals once from 1996-99.  

There were numerous other championships over the years as well, including at the Babe Ruth level. It has been a long, memorable ride and, after some lean years, the league is still going strong. 

“The guys who are running it now are doing a great job,” Shawn said. “Just with the coaching and the players. The talent comes and goes in any town, but it’s nice when it comes around. I guess with any sport, when they have a good year it draws out talent that may not have been found because there are kids that get an interest and get excited to see successful teams. It’s a nice draw and it’s good for the town.”

Asked what his dad would think of the 70th Anniversary celebration, Brian chuckled. 

“He would be proud only because it has gone so far,” Carroll said. “There was a time about 10 years ago when that league got ready to fold, until the volunteers came back and took it over again. I often wonder how he would have felt about that if the league folded. He probably would have gone and got a Volkswagen, driven it to another area and just started another one.”

Fortunately that wouldn’t have to happen. Lawrence Little League is 70 but looking young as ever and ready to celebrate.



Lawrence Township Junior Baseball & Softball Association
100 Eggert Crossing Road, PO Box 6923
Lawrenceville, New Jersey 08648

Email: [email protected]

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