The landscape of Little League baseball and softball in the Midcoast is in the process of a seismic shift and, beginning in the coming weeks, will undergo a significant makeover the next 12 months.

The decades-old Knox Suburban Little League officially will disband at the conclusion of the 2013 regular season, with that league's eight participating towns — Appleton, Hope, Lincolnville, Washington, Union, Warren, Thomaston, St. George — absorbed into three neighboring leagues.

Little League includes many age levels, but is best known for its traditional 9-12 division.

While Knox Suburban will exist only on paper for the 2013 season, teams in the league will compete in the Rockland, Camden-Rockport and Waldoboro leagues this spring.

The 2013 Little League season is a trial run, of sorts, before Knox Suburban officially disbands during the summer.

"Organizationally, Knox Suburban still exists," said Waldoboro Little League treasurer Kyle Santheson. "Operationally, the league is being split up this season into a regular-season schedule within the three remaining leagues."

Thomaston and St. George will all play a combined schedule within the Rockland Little League, while Hope, Appleton and Lincolnville will play a combined scheduled within the Camden-Rockport Little League and Warren, Union and Washington will both play a combined schedule within the Waldoboro Little League.

All towns were assigned accordingly, essentially to be in the limits of each local Little League's corresponding school districts.

"This year I'd call it a pilot program," said Rockland Little League vice-president Tom Peaco. "I think where we're headed is to redraw the league boundaries in Knox County (and part of Lincoln County) along school district lines, assuming all goes well this year and we think it will."

District 2 Little League all-star playoffs will go on as scheduled, though Knox Suburban will no longer field representative teams. Players within the corresponding towns will be eligible to try out for all-star teams within the leagues they play this season.

Santheson, along with representatives from Camden-Rockport and Rockland Little Leagues, have met several times since the conclusion of last season about the future of Little League in the Midcoast and likely will hold a few more meetings as their respective seasons unfold.

"The reason we wanted to do a pilot year without formally dissolving Knox Suburban was we all felt like there will be things that crop up that we haven't thought of," said Peaco. "And there will be issues that need to be resolved."

District 2 administrator Dana Verge contacted Little League headquarters in Williamsport, Pa. and asked permission for the local leagues to go through the ensuing transition year.

Officials at Little League headquarters preferred the method of the local leagues going through a pilot year, though Verge has not yet submitted the paperwork to make it official. Verge and other league representatives plan to meet March 25 to formally draw up the paperwork.

"It's just a formality," said Verge, who added he anticipates no road blocks for this year's trial season.

Verge, who oversees all four local leagues, in addition to Waldo County Little League and Lincoln Little League, which make up District 2, said "What we're really interested in is getting more kids involved and playing games."

"I think the folks from the national level actually encouraged us to have this pilot year and to not just jump in feet first so we'd be able to work through any issues that arose before we finalized everything," said Peaco. "So they were actually very pleased that we were doing it this way."

All three leagues likely will go through name changes next year as well.

It appears likely Waldoboro Little League will become Medomak Little League, Rockland Little League will become Oceanside Little League and Camden-Rockport Little League will become Five Town Little League.

Those names are not official, though they have been discussed at subsequent meetings.

Peaco said there have been "informal discussions" about changing the name of Rockland Little League but nothing official has been proposed, though he felt the eventual name change to Oceanside Little League was a likely scenario.

Camden-Rockport Little League president Suzanne Schecter said the league "will probably change their name next year," but thinks "the best thing to do is to put a vote out there and get some suggestions and then we can vote on it."

Waldoboro Little League has been in existence since 1952, Verge said, while Rockland (Area) Little League has been around five to six decades. Camden Little League and Camden-Rockport Little League, along with the Knox Suburban Little League, also have had decades-long existences.

The leagues all started with baseball until they also began to offer softball in more recent years.

An interesting wrinkle for all three leagues is there will be "home" and "away" games this year as teams still participating under the Knox Suburban banner will have home games in their towns.

Waldoboro, Rockland and Camden-Rockport Little Leagues traditionally have played its games for its teams at one or two particular venues, while Knox Suburban Little League, which is more geologically vast than its counterparts, has had each team have its own home field.

For example, Waldoboro baseball and softball games were, in recent years, played on the John Foster Field or the newer Waldoboro Recreation Complex. Rockland games over the years have been played at a number of fields, including South Field on Thomaston Street, Kenniston Field and Jaycee Park on Old County Road and, more recently, at E. Allen Gordon Field and George C. Hall Field on Pleasant Street. Camden-Rockport games have been played on many fields, including behind Camden-Rockport Middle School, at the Camden Snow Bowl and, more recently, at Marge Jones Recreation Facility on Route 90.

In recent years, Hope games were at True Park, Union games on the field behind the fire station, Appleton games on field on the ridge, Thomaston games behind the business block, St. George games at the newer ballfields, Lincolnville games behind Lincolnville Central School, Washington games at Prescott Memorial School and Warren games near the Warren Community School or the newer recreation area behind the fire station.

"All our games have always been at Gordon Field," said Peaco. "While it's a great facility and we love playing there, I think our kids are going to look forward to having a couple of road games too, which we've never had before."

Schecter agreed, adding the field limitations they likely will run into with more teams will be alleviated by having other fields to play games on.

"I think the only way to make this work is for every town to feel their town is just as important as the next," she said.

The idea of condensing the field of competition has turned, more or less, the addition by subtraction theory.

"We're going to have one less [area] league in Knox Suburban, but the hope is these leagues that remain will be able to field three all-star teams [in both baseball and softball] and be more competitive," said Peaco, squads which would include ages 9-10, 11-12 and 10-11 for baseball and 9-10 and 11-12 for softball.

For example, in the past, Rockland Little League all-star teams typically have fielded teams at the 9-10 and 11-12 divisions for both baseball and softball, but have never been in a position to take advantage of the 10-11 division due to lack of players.

With a larger pool of children to choose from in each league, Rockland Little League, in addition to Camden-Rockport and Waldoboro Little Leagues, could have enough players to field five all-star teams (3 baseball and 2 softball), which, in turn, will increase the level of competition and, ultimately, give more players the opportunity to vie for district and state championships.

"I think from, our perspective in Rockland, and I think in Thomaston and St. George too, we're feeling very positive about this," Peaco said. "Everybody's looking forward to it."

Rockland Little League tryouts will be Saturday, March 23, while Camden-Rockport Little League and Waldoboro Little League tryouts will be Saturday, March 30.

Youngsters who live within the confines of the Knox Suburban Little League should contact their town recreation departments, most likely at the town offices, for tryout information.

History lesson

Carl Stotz, a resident of Williamsport, Pa., founded Little League Baseball in 1939. He began experimenting with his idea in the summer of 1938 when he gathered his nephews, Jimmy and Major Gehron and their neighborhood friends. They tried different field dimensions over the course of the summer and played several informal games. The following summer Stotz felt that he was ready to establish what later became Little League Baseball.

The first league in Williamsport had just three teams, each sponsored by a different business. The first teams, Jumbo Pretzel, Lycoming Dairy and Lundy Lumber, were managed by Carl Stotz and two of his friends, George and Bert Bebble. The men, joined by their wives and another couple, formed the first Little League Board of Directors. Stotz' dream of establishing a baseball league for boys to teach fair play and teamwork had come true.

The first League game took place on June 6, 1939. Lundy Lumber defeated Lycoming Dairy, 23-8. Lycoming Dairy came back to claim the league championship. They, the first-half-season champions, defeated Lundy Lumber, the second-half champs, in a best-of-three season-ending series. The following year a second league was formed in Williamsport, and from there Little League Baseball grew to become an international organization of nearly 200,000 teams in every U.S. state and more than 80 countries around the world.

From 1951 through 1974, Little League was for boys only. In 1974, Little League rules were revised to allow participation by girls in the baseball program following the result of a lawsuit filed by the National Organization for Women on behalf of Maria Pep.

According to the Little League Baseball and Softball participation statistics from recent years, there are more than 2.65 million players in Little League Baseball worldwide, including boys and girls, including 400,000 registered in softball (also including both boys and girls).

For tournament purposes, Little League Baseball is divided into 16 geographic regions; eight national and eight international. Each summer, Little League operates seven World Series tournaments at various locations throughout the U.S.

Courier Publications Associate Sports Director Mark Haskell can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email at mhaskell@courierpublicationsllc.com.