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Wilson to Lead Little League’s Lineup

As May entered its final days, there was plenty to cheer about on the local sports scene. Softball teams from Jersey Shore, Loyalsock, Muncy, and Williamsport had earned themselves entry into the PIAA state tournament, while South Williamsport’s baseball and softball teams both remained alive, and the Williamsport Crosscutters were making final preparations for the 2024 season at Bowman Field.

While the aforementioned teams each possessed rabid fan bases to cheer them on, the most meaningful news emanating as May passed the torch to June was the announcement from Little League International that Patrick W. Wilson has been selected to succeed Steve Keener as the organization’s President and Chief Executive Officer following Keener’s December 31, upcoming retirement.

Wilson joined the Little League staff in 1993 and has since climbed the internal ranks, serving in a variety of capacities, most recently as Chief Operating Officer since 2020. In selecting Wilson for the prestigious post, the Board of Directors lauded him for his organizational leadership, tournament direction, broadcast evolution, international growth and expansion, and player safety experience.

But for those concerned with the overall impact Little League has on the viability of our local area, Wilson’s chief qualification is that he has local roots. He was raised in Williamsport, played Little League here, attended Bloomsburg University, and once worked for the City’s recreation department before joining Little League.

Little League Baseball is much more than an event that puts our area on the map for a few weeks each August. It is a multi-million-dollar operation that touches each of our fifty states and 80 countries around the world. As its home base, Williamsport is a magical word. It is a bucket-list destination for many and has, over the years, been a dreamt-about sought-after entity for potential relocation.

Fortunately, when those inquiries arose, the four men preceding Wilson at the helm, all maintained their commitment to keeping Little League’s roots firmly planted in local soil.

Its founder, Carl Stotz, followed by Peter J. McGovern, Dr. Creighton J. Hale, and Keener, all led with much different personalities and skill sets, which has served Little League and Williamsport well.

Stotz’s 1939 creation experienced growing pains at the end of WWII. With limited financial resources, he sought help as the popularity of Little League was spreading from the East Coast.

Financial help came from the US Rubber Company, which saw the sales potential for its Keds footwear to boom. With the financial commitment came the entry of McGovern, then a US Rubber employee. The company sent him to Williamsport, where the conflict between Stotz and McGovern eventually led to the founder’s departure from the program.

McGovern’s leadership was stoic but effective. During his tenure, Little League offices expanded and moved to their current South Williamsport location. He was the man who penned the Little League pledge. ABC’s Wide World of Sports began its association with the World Series on a tape-delayed basis, and McGovern had long insisted that if Saturday’s game would ever be rained out, it would not be played on a Sunday.

In 1973, Hale succeeded McGovern at the helm. Hale was a Nebraska native educated in Massachusetts but soon became a Williamsporter. He joined Little League in 1955 under McGovern and was known for his safety innovations, including the Little League Batting Helmet.

During his tenure, he played a significant role in shaping the organization’s future. He turned potentially damaging lawsuits into successes with the formation of the Little League Challenger Division and the introduction of the Softball program. He could be firm and, at times, a bit stubborn as he long opposed the inclusion of double-elimination play and adult base coaches but eventually embraced both.

Hale gave Keener his first Little League experience, providing him with a summer internship during Keener’s college years and later hiring him to the staff in 1980. Following his 1993 retirement, Keener succeeded him as LLB president.

In his 30-year role, Keener’s leadership and consensus-building skills took Little League to new heights. In 2000, Volunteer Stadium was built, and the tournament field expanded to 16 teams, which it has since expanded to 20 teams in 2022. He negotiated media contracts with ESPN that provided the organization with additional capital and unprecedented coverage of Little League tournament exposure well beyond what occurs in Williamsport.

As did McGovern with Hale and Hale with Keener, Keener is now passing the torch of leadership to Wilson, who will have challenges to meet himself. The pandemic saw league losses that have not been fully recovered, and the growing popularity of travel ball has caused changes to the Little League rulebook.

As Keener once told me, the uniqueness of leading this worldwide organization is unlike any other CEO position. That the Board of Directors has trusted Wilson to carry on is a win for the Williamsport community — one which he is looking forward to accepting.

“I am looking forward to continuing to lead Little League’s evolution to tangibly bringing our values to life — community, fun, inclusion, integrity, and teamwork — and really live them as an entire organization in 2025 and beyond.”

Thanks to Steve Keener for his commitment to our area and to Wilson’s steadfastness to the same.