Celebrating 50 years of Westchester Del Rey Little League

Feb 5, 2024

In the 50 years since Westchester Del Rey Little League (WDRLL) was founded, the league and its field–for many people an extension of their own backyard–has built community, friendships and a tradition that is spanning generations.

When the first softball is thrown over home base at the Westchester Del Rey Little League’s (WDRLL) Opening Ceremony on February 24, it will mark the organization’s 50th anniversary season. Not only is it a huge milestone for the beloved sports institution, it is also a moment of celebration for all local sports fans–especially the women and girls it has served for the past five decades.

WDRLL was founded by Mary Ann and Kent Mace in 1974, with approximately 50 girls playing softball that first season. Today, the league has grown to more than 300 players on 27 teams, with ages ranging from 4 to 16. Over the years, the league has added co-ed tee ball as well, and recently announced its expansion to include the communities of El Segundo and Manhattan Beach, to provide even more opportunities to play ball.

Talk to any volunteer, coach or WDRLL supporter, and you’ll often find they have a long history with the league that can go back decades. Current league President Jim Evans started as a softball coach for his daughters’ teams and then became a board member. His wife even played on the 1978 WDRLL All Star team! Recently retired from his fruitful career in human resources, he happily says his complete focus is now on creating a place where all the league’s athletes can thrive and have a memorable experience.

WDRLL supporters pose for a photo. From left to right: Taylor Glover, Courtney O’Donoghue, Addison O’Donoghue, Erin Hennessey Chavez, Jim Evans, Kamyle Clarke, Terence Glover, Harper Tisdom and Sabrina Tisdom.

“It’s all about the girls,” says Jim, who describes his responsibility as threefold. “The first priority is kids. Because I tell the parents, it’s not kids with an apostrophe ‘s,’ it’s kids first as in all the kids. It’s really thinking about what’s in the best interest of the girls.”

His second priority is building community. But Jim knows that community support for WDRLL wouldn’t already be so strong without the efforts of the smart, well-connected people who came before him.

 “You know the old saying, ‘You stand on the shoulders of those who came before?’ There are people who did some phenomenal things with this league, so I get the chance to stand on their shoulders and then expand that footprint,” he says.

Of course, some of those WDRLL superstars over the years have included the Mace family and Carl Nielsen, the namesakes for the league’s field and park, as well as the hundreds of unsung heroes who have helped the organization throughout its history with their time, talent and treasure.

Jim’s third priority is ensuring that girls’ softball is a positive experience.

“How can the girls learn and enjoy the game of softball? It’s about kicking in the fundamentals and building their skills, but making sure they’re having fun. It does no good to have someone coming out there and just playing a sport. With my own kids, the question I always asked them after every game was, ‘Did you have fun?’ And if they’re not having fun, I say don’t do it anymore.”

Luckily, it seems that most former WDRLL players not only have fond memories of the league, but are also sharing their love for softball with the next generation. 

Erin Hennessey Chavez is one of those people who grew up in Westchester and looks back at her time playing softball with a big smile. Growing up, Erin adored baseball, so she started off her sports career with the Westchester Little League–which was all boys.

Three generations of Erin Hennessey Chavez’s family have participated in WDRLL. Left to right: Sandi Hennessey, Sienna Chavez, Mark Hennessey, Rio Hennessey, Avery Chavez, Erin Chavez and Carlos Chavez.

At age 13 though, she made the switch to the community’s softball league.

“Softball turned out to be more fun for me,” said Erin, who played catcher and third base. “I loved it and played from age 13 all the way up to 18. I was on the All Star softball team at 17, and I went to the Little League World Series in Kalamazoo, Michigan!”

Although her team didn’t end up winning, it was an amazing experience that cemented her—and her family’s—dedication to WDRLL.

Her daughter, Avery, 18, is a league alumna, and Sienna, 15, is in the league’s Junior Division where she plays shortstop, second base and outfield. A true family affair, Erin’s father, Mark Hennessey, spent years volunteering to mow the park’s 6.2 acres; her husband, Carlos Chavez, is a Junior Division coach; and her nephew, Rio, just started with the league playing tee ball. Oh, and her mom, Sandi, loves to root the family on from the sidelines!

For former WDRLL players Kamyle Glover and Sabrina Tisdom, it’s all about giving back to the softball community that provided such an impactful experience. The women became lifelong friends while playing with the league and went on to play in high school and college.

“My experience has been pretty amazing, honestly,” says Sabrina. “We went to the World Series twice and were runners-up both times. The first time to Puerto Rico, the second time to Manila, Philippines.”

Their softball skills even earned them both college scholarships.

Now the two are giving back by coaching for the league and are having a blast.

“Kamyle and I say all the time, ‘We don’t have kids on the team, so we do this solely because we love it,” says Sabrina. “I just enjoy seeing these kids grow and get better. For example, last year we had a completely new squad of girls that had never played before, and we ended up winning first place! So, I do it because of that. I do it just to give back those skills.”

Clockwise from left to right: Addison and Courtney O’Donoghue pose in the dugout. 2. The Glover family–Taylor, Terence and Kamyle–pose for a photo at Nielsen Park. 3. A tile mural commemorates WDRLL. 4. The All Stars circa 1979. 5. Equipment and backpacks line the fence at Mace Field. 6. The current generation of little leaguers gets ready for tryouts.

But playing in a league like WDRLL is about more than just stats or how many home runs you can hit. After all, the league puts a premium on promoting the virtues of character, courage and loyalty.

 “Ultimately, it goes beyond softball. We’re teaching life skills, things like discipline, things that they take home,” said Sabrina. “We have parents that tell us, ‘Oh my goodness, I couldn’t get her to listen to me, and then she started playing with you guys and now she’s a whole new girl at home.’”

Kamyle agrees that seeing her players grow confidence is super rewarding.

“For them to be able to just do stuff with no fear is great. I tell them, the game is 99 percent failure. You’re going to succeed once, but you’re going to fail a lot, but it’s how you fail,” said Kamyle. “How do you respond to that? Did you just dig yourself a hole, or are you going to use that experience to learn? It’s about all that,” she says.

Courtney O’Donoghue’s history with the league goes back more than 30 years. She’s grateful for how the league has grown, and that Nielsen Park has become a neighborhood hub for so many looking to cheer on their family, connect with neighbors and make memories that last a lifetime. Back when she played softball, the league didn’t have all the nice amenities it does today.

“I played softball in this league from age 9 to 12, and we played at Westchester Park while they were building the new field. In my last year of playing, we moved to Nielsen Park. I remember it opening and having a dirt parking lot. Now it’s paved! It was so exciting because we knew that all these people had worked really hard over the years to save up the money, get the grants and get the space. Having our own field is really amazing,” says Courtney.

These days, she’s back on the field a lot, as her daughter, Addison, 14, plays first base in the Junior Division. You’ll often find her and her whole softball-loving family behind home plate ready to make some noise as Addison tags someone out or scores a run.

She says playing softball helps teach a lot of lessons, especially confidence.

“Last year, Addison made the All Star team and to see her become a leader on the field–help other kids, show them how to throw the ball and give them a pep talk when they get to the plate–it’s a big moment for me as a parent to watch my child become a leader on the field. It’s very exciting to watch,” says Courtney.    

While a golden anniversary is a huge milestone, Jim continues to build on the past and look to the future for what the league and all its supporters and volunteers can accomplish.

“Opening Day is always a very positive, fun experience for everyone who attends,” says Jim. “Not only are we celebrating 50 years, but it’s also an opportunity to look ahead and inspire our players to keep it going another 50 for the next generation of players. We should all be so lucky!”

Join WDRLL in celebrating the kick-off to its 50th anniversary season on Saturday, February 24. Special guests include Olympian Natasha Watley and Councilwoman Traci Park. There will also be a group photo where players will form a giant 5-0 and other festivities. Follow facebook.com/WDRLL or visit wdrll.org to learn more.

Limited spaces are still available for the 2024 season.

Story by Shane Edwards. Photos by Robert Higgins.

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