SMITHFIELD — The high school summer baseball season starts Monday, bringing with it a new league for most Johnston County schools.
Prep summer leagues started in 2006 with the Central Carolina Scholastic Summer League, which was designed to provide a weekday playing option for students in high school the following fall. The league grew by leaps and bounds over the past few seasons and included 67 programs last season.
However, the addition of two summer dead periods by the N.C. High School Athletic Association this spring will lead to some changes this summer. High school programs are not allowed to conduct activities during the week of July 1-7 and July 22-28.
CCSSL organizers wanted to be able to play those weeks to continue to use the schedule they’ve been using for the past few seasons.
The NCHSAA agreed to do that but put in a requirement that the teams in the CCSSL had to be separate from the high schools and rent high school facilities among other things to show that they are not a part of the high school.
That requirement would have made the league cost prohibitive for players with field rental fees at $100 per hour.
Since that could have put a cost of $300-400 per player to play in the league, Johnston coaches and school officials decided to look for another option for their summer in-week play.
Hence the formation of the Johnston County High School Summer League, which starts play Monday with teams from Smithfield-Selma, South Johnston, West Johnston, Cleveland, Corinth Holders, North Johnston and first-time prep summer league entrant Princeton.
“We didn’t feel like the two summer dead periods were times we had to play,” said South Johnston coach Keith Durham. “And this gives us a chance to have the same Monday – Thursday format with free substitutions, getting guys at bats and just developing their baseball skills.”
To that end there will be no end-of-season tournament or champion determined in the Johnston County league. And keeping play restricted to weekdays allows the players who participate in weekend-based travel leagues free reign to do so.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Durham said of the league, “but we’re excited to get it started.”
Garner will continue to play in the CCSSL, which begins play June 13.
Clayton will not participate in either league. The Comets instead will hold eight full intrasquad scrimmages on Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning June 18. They will also break for the week of July 4.
The new league was a great time for Princeton to join the summer ranks, according to Princeton High baseball coach Bruce Proctor who will turn over the reigns of the Bulldog program to Michael Price and Forrest Stewart for the summer season. The Bulldogs will only field a varsity team.
“We’re going to have some real young guys and this gives them a great chance to get used to varsity or junior varsity baseball,” Proctor said. “Some of our high school varsity guys are not going to play with us so we’ll have a few more of those young guys in our lineup.”
Most JCHSSL teams will field junior varsity (for rising ninth and 10th graders) and varsity teams (for 11-12th graders). The teams will play on the same day at the same site the majority of the time with junior varsity games at 4 and varsity games at 6.
“This league will give each of our high schools an opportunity to improve as a team in hopes to make our teams better in the spring,” said Cleveland coach Jamie Lee. “The kids have an opportunity to work on their individual skills as well. Johnston County has had very good baseball over the years for a long time and I think in the long run playing against each other can only make all of us better.”
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