DUBAI LITTLE LEAGUE, ORIGINS & EARLY YEARS
In early 1996, Andy and Sally Ritter, a GM family relatively new to Dubai, wanted their boys to be able to play baseball, but the American School of Dubai did not have a baseball program and Dubai did not have a Little League program. Abu Dhabi had a well-established Little League, but traveling to Abu Dhabi for practices and games was not feasible, particularly with the state of the Abu Dhabi highway at the time.
To generate interest in a Dubai Little League program, the Ritters gained the support of GM and through ASD organized a group of kids 10-12 years old to form a baseball team and to challenge the Abu Dhabi Little League All Stars to a two-game tournament, with the first game to be played in Abu Dhabi and the second game to be played at ASD. The Abu Dhabi Little League readily accepted the challenge to play against this unorganized group of kids from Dubai. In classic storybook fashion, the Dubai team handily won the first game in Abu Dhabi and dominated in the second game in Dubai.
By the Fall of 1996, the Ritters had organized a small group of parents to organize a Little League program in Dubai, to serve as its Board of Directors, and to apply to Little League International for a Little League Charter, which was granted in 1997. The new Dubai Little League [obtained permission from ASD to use its fields for practice and] reached agreement with the Dubai Softball League to play on their dirt fields at the Metropolitan Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road (now the site of the Al Habtoor hotel complex next to the Dubai canal).
The first playing season, Dubai had 12 teams in 3 divisions, with each team sponsored by a different company, which provided necessary funds for League expenses and widened the visibility of the League in the community. The players, numbering about 120 boys and girls, came from numerous schools and about 10 countries, including the United Arab Emirates. From there, the Dubai Little League kept growing, but a constant worry was the plans of Dubai Municipality to take the land of the Dubai Softball League for community and infrastructure works, leaving the Dubai Little League without a place to play baseball.
On September 11, 2001, the world changed, with the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Especially with at least one of the 9/11 terrorists being a U.A.E. National, the American community was concerned about safety and security, and many individuals and companies were questioning whether to stay.
The President of the American Business Council of Dubai and the Northern Emirates and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum met, confirmed the commitments of the American business community and the Dubai Government and people to each other, and considered ways to show demonstrate those commitments. Having been suitably prepped, the President of the Council described the Dubai Little League program with its focus on youth sports and volunteers and suggested that if the Dubai Government would provide suitable land, the Dubai Little League would generate the funds to build baseballs fields on that land. Sheikh Mohammed enthusiastically agreed.
Before leaving the Dubai Softball League fields, though, the Dubai Little League managed to organize another internationally noteworthy event, the 2003 Goodwill Tournament among two Dubai Little League Senior teams, the Abu Dhabi Little League Senior team and the National Junior team of Iran. It was the first tournament involving Iran that was sanctioned by Little League International, and it brought together over three days the American and other expatriate communities of Dubai, the Iranian expatriate community in Dubai and Iranian nationals. In an unexpected diplomatic result, in the opening round-robin game, the Iranian National team beat the New York Yankees of the Dubai Little League, and the final game for the Championship, the New York Yankees beat the Iranian National team.
By the time of completion of the fields in the 2003/04 season, the Dubai Little League had over 200 players from over 20 nationalities. Over the next years, the fields were expanded and improved, especially with lights for night games; a Challengers League was added; and the numbers grew to over 400 players from over 40 nationalities.
In 2005, DLL held its first annual international tournament, hosting teams from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Teams from all age divisions participated over the 3-day tournament. The Dubai Little League Invitational Tournament continues to this day, having hosted over 2000 players and teams from places as far away as Australia, Singapore and South Africa.
Since 2006, teams from the U-12 Majors division have been participating in qualifying tournaments for the Little League World Series in Williamsport PA. Originally playing in Kutno, Poland as part of the EMEA section, DLL teams now participate in the Asia region which is usually hosted in the Philippines. In 2008, the DLL team came within 5 outs of winning the tournament and going to Williamsport but unfortunately fate was not on their side.
In 2010, DLL introduced its Challengers Division, an initiative to include Special Needs children in the league. Over 200 children have participated in the Challenger Division, many of whom have limited opportunities to play sports on a regular basis. The effort DLL players and other volunteers have spent teaching them baseball has resulted in marked improvements to their coordination skills and well-being, as well as a lasting connection between families.