“It’s been a real community effort”

In his familiar spot behind the plate, Jason McElwee estimates that he umpires between 60-70 games each summer.

McElwee stepping down as president of PYSO – 

Story and photos by Mark Carpenter – 

It was a decision made 11 years ago that turned out to be a pretty good one for both Jason McElwee and youth sports in Peebles. It was 11 years ago that McElwee took the position of the President of the Peebles Youth Sports Organization and 11 years later, he has made the decision to step down.
“I had been coaching my oldest son Joe for a year in the organization when Dave Stephens approached me in 2006 about him stepping down as president and me possibly taking over,” says McElwee. “I told him I had reservations about taking over the duties and whether I was up to the task or not and it was kind of forgotten until he approached me again and collectively, my wife and I decided that I’d take the position and the rest is history as they say.”
Recently, McElwee made the decision that it was time for him to leave the president’s position and hand the reins over to someone else, though that someone else has yet to be found.
“We’ve accomplished a lot in 11 years, our kids have both grown and left the organization, and we just thought it was time for a change and some new blood to keep things moving in the right direction. We have been searching for the last year and a half for a replacement and we’re hoping to find someone to make an easy transition but so far no one has stepped up.”
Very few on the outside realize all the responsibilities of a person in charge of a youth sports organization.
“Our season pretty much runs all-year round,” says McElwee. “We’ll start working on sign-ups in January and the actual sign-ups start the first week of March. Then we sort through the sign-ups, put the teams together, verify and find coaches, and then all of the coach’s meetings start where we get them ready with equipment and schedules. Then you are into the actual ball season with 10 acres of grass to cut and three ball fields to prep and get ready and we usually average around 100-130 regular season games a year in Peebles.”
“One thing the Peebles coaches have going for them that many others do not is that myself and my family prepare the fields for them every night. The field is set up and waiting for the coaches when they show up.”
McElwee is also the one responsible for making the call on those rainy days, play or not play. “I always tell my coaches that if they don’t hear from me, plan on playing every night.”
Over the 11-year span, there are a number of things that McElwee and his organization have accomplished that he will take with him with pride.
“When we started, all the land we used was still school property (the old Peebles High School grounds) and with the help of Holly Johnson at Adams County Economic Development, we were able to get grant money to purchase the property with the help of the Peebles Village Council,” said McElwee. “We went to work on revamping three fields and I’m just really glad that we were able to lock in a place where the kids can play baseball, softball, soccer, and football and now with the addition of basketball courts this summer, I wanted to be sure they had a place to play for years to come.”

Jason McElwee, left, who is stepping down as president of the PYSO, was honored before a game last week, by Peebles 14U head coach Jay Mahan.

One thing that any good leader needs is a lot of good help and McElwee says that he has many people on that list.
“Ben and Keilani Stone have been there for probably 10 of the 11 years and then there’s Michael and Melanie Rayburn who have been with me the entire 11 years. Keven and Kathy Behr always help out at the ball park and the people of the community like Debbie Ryan and Holly Johnson helping with grants and Leeann Puckett from GE working with us to get the playground was great. Hardy Wallingford has done numerous jobs for us and Paul Worley helped us get the funding for the Veteran’s Memorial Flag site which I think really brought something to the park. It’s been a real community effort throughout the whole 11 years.”
One of the sacrifices that the leader of such a youth organization makes is the loss of time with his family, but McElwee solved that, he just brought his family to the park with him.
“My youngest daughter is a sophomore in high school and she told me recently that she can’t remember a time when we weren’t part of the ball park,” McElwee says. “Our kids have grown up there and my wife Beth is in the concession stand seven days a week. While the kids help cut grass or line fields, or umpiring. It’s been a part of our life for so long that they really don’t know anything else.”
If you go the ball field in Peebles and you are looking for McElwee, chances are you will find him in a familiar spot-wearing a mask, chest protector, and shin guards-and calling balls and strikes from behind the plate.
“My umpiring began as a thing of necessity,” says McElwee. “We always tried to employ high school kids as umpires but sometimes they wouldn’t show up so I started out filling in and it became something that I really enjoyed and I will umpire every chance I get. I guess that I probably umpire 60-70 games a summer.”
As previously mentioned, no replacement for McElwee has stepped forward, but if anyone does, the current president has some good advice for them.
“It takes real dedication to keep everything going and it really is a full-time job and it’s a thankless job too. You have to be in it for the right reasons, doing it for the kids and the betterment of the community. Do that and you will be fine.”