MCLEAN COUNTY PONY BASEBALL HISTORY:
McLean County PONY Baseball was founded in 1986 by Bloomington resident Dennis Shira. During its early years the league shared city ball fields with local adult softball leagues and played its games at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.
To provide fields with appropriate dimensions and available at times convenient for families, construction of the McLean County PONY Baseball Complex began in 1988. The complex, recently renamed in honor of the Shira family, is located in southeast Bloomington near the corner of Towanda-Barnes Road and Ireland Grove Road.
The first diamond for players ages 13 and 14 was ready for use in 1990. Five additional diamonds, a concession stand and two storage buildings have now been built by the nonprofit organization without utilizing any taxpayer money.
McLean County PONY Baseball currently has over 1,200 players participating in seven different age divisions. These players wear replicas of Major League uniforms and play organized baseball each spring and summer from April until the end of July.
Each season features exciting in-house tournaments, all-star games and teams representing McLean County PONY Baseball competing at postseason tournaments for a chance to advance to the World Series.
In the fall McLean County PONY Baseball offers an instructional league for players ages 8 through 12, as well as recreational leagues for high school and adult players.
Thanks to numerous volunteer coaches and the generosity of local sponsors and contributors, thousands of young people have the opportunity to continue to learn and enjoy the game of baseball in the McLean County PONY Baseball League.
PONY Baseball and Softball began with organization of the PONY League in Washington, PA in the summer of 1951. This was a transition league for 13- and 14-year old players designed to take graduates of Little League baseball from that diamond to the regulation size diamond. Growth of Pony League, primarily by word of mouth, was rapid, and by the end of the second season, 1952, the original six teams in Washington were joined by 505 others in 106 leagues across the country. A national tournament was conducted, and the first Pony League World Series was held that year.
Lew Hays, among the founders of the Pony League, was named Commissioner of the new league when it was incorporated for national organization in early 1953 and held that post until 1964 when he became president. In 1953, John Laslo, long time mayor of Martin's Ferry, Ohio, visited with Hays and discussed organization of a league similar to Pony League for 15- and 16-year-old players. The purpose was to permit players in this age bracket to compete with players of like experience in their first years on the regulation diamond. Laslo guided the development of Colt League, and in late 1959, Pony League and Colt League were merged into a single organization.
Bronco League, for 11- and 12-year old players, was organized in 1961 to permit players of this age to play the complete game of baseball. With Colt League using the regulation diamond with 90 foot basepaths, Pony League uses a diamond with 80 foot basepaths as a transition between the regulation diamond and the 70 foot diamond used in Bronco League.
In 1970 the Mustang League was developed in Fort Worth, TX using a diamond with 60 foot basepaths, to provide an organizational structure for leagues for beginning players, 9- and 10- year olds. For communities using players of 7 and 8 years of age, rules and emblems were developed for Pinto League, a very elementary form of baseball.
Thorobred League was organized in the Tampa, FL area and became a part of PONY Baseball in 1973 to provide playing opportunity for those players from 17 through 20 years of age who have not entered professional play and who retain a desire to participate in a community baseball program.
In 1977, Thorobred League age limits were expanded to include 21-year-old players, and Palomino League was organized for players 17 and 18. The Thorobred League was discontinued as PONY program in 1984.
Shetland League, an instructional program for 5 and 6-year olds, was formally adopted by PONY for the 1990 season with rules based on the experiences of a number of league organizations that had conducted play in this age group for several years.
More than 400,000 players participate in the PONY organization annually. Over 1,100 players participated in McLean County PONY Baseball in 2007.