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Tylers leave large legacy for Little League
“It’s all about the kids.”
Ken Tyler used the line grudgingly to explain why he volunteers to work with North Whidbey Little League.
“It’s a cliche, and I don’t like it because so many people aren’t sincere when they say it. But it IS all about the kids.”
And has been for 37 years.
Tyler and his wife Stella, who is also a longtime NWLL volunteer, are moving to Havre, Mont., in the fall, which will end their decades-long service to the youth of Oak Harbor.
Their daughter Tracey and two of their grandchildren live in Havre. What isn’t in Havre is a Little League program, at least for now. The Tylers aim to change that.
They don’t want their grandchildren missing out of the Little League experience, so they are going to kill two birds, make that three, with one stone.
They will get to spend more time with Tracey’s family, they will make sure their grandchildren have the opportunity to play Little League and they will treat the rest of Havre to the wonders of youth baseball and softball.
Ken Tyler said he already contacted the Little League District Administrator of the region that includes Havre and “warned him I was coming.”
Ken Tyler began his association with North Whidbey Little League in 1978 when he coached his son Kevin’s Cap League team. After two years, he realized he didn’t possess the expertise to coach the sport at the higher levels, so he turned to umpiring to stay involved.
In umpiring he made his biggest mark, and there he was (and is) an expert. Dedicated to his craft, he attended an umpiring school in 1990 to hone his skills.
He was the head umpire for North Whidbey Little League for eight years, an umpire consultant for the district for 12 years and the district umpire-in-chief for eight.
In 2007 he reached the mecca for Little League umpires: He was selected to umpire the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
He served on the North Whidbey board for 27 years, the final five as president. Since 1997 he has been an officer at the district level, and took over the leadership role, district administrator, in 2009. The district covers Island, Skagit, Whatcom and San Juan counties.
By comparison, Stella Tyler is a mere pup in volunteer service time, beginning her work 13 years ago. She joined the North Whidbey board in 2002 and held the president’s post for a short time. The past five years she has served as vice president.
“Somebody had to do it,” Stella said. “Someone paved the way for my kids when I was working full time, Ken was at sea and I was too busy to help. I’m paying back instead of paying forward.”
She found when she retired as an Oak Harbor High School math teacher she needed something to do.
“I was going to read a lot, but that got old really fast," she said. "I got the opportunity to be on the board, and it built and kind of evolved from that.”
Most of her work centered on inventorying uniforms and, with Terri Mebane, running the concession stand, somewhere fans will find her every night.
“And all day Saturday,” Ken chimed in.
“It’s a big commitment, but I enjoy doing it,” Stella said. “If I didn’t do this, what would I be doing?”
Ken said he never considered quitting during his tenure, though he enjoys umpiring more than the administrative side.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” he said.
Once, at a ceremony before a game to honor his service, Ken was asked to say a few words. Not one to seek accolades, he deflected the moment away from himself and to where he knew it belonged. In typical umpire fashion, he quickly shouted, “Let’s play ball.”
Soon they will be saying that in Havre, too.
NWLL President Erica Wasinger: "Ken and Stella are irreplaceable assets to NWLL and District 11. Not sure of any who have worked as hard to ensure every child has the opportunity to play baseball and softball. Two years ago an all-star player, new to the community, was missing one piece of required paperwork. Ken called the family and made a house call at 9 p.m. so this child could join the team."
NWLL Vice President of Baseball Henry Westman: "When I first started umpiring back in the late '90s, Ken was always there to offer advice and training to all the new umpires, always wanting to make sure that we were getting better for our sake as well as the sake of the players who were playing the game. When I became president, Ken was still on the board, and I always looked to him for guidance when ideas were brought up to make changes to ensure that it was the best thing to do for the league. Their extensive knowledge and guidance is something that everyone is going to really miss once they have moved on."
NWLL Umpire in Chief Sean Rafferty: "Their contributions have made the league what it is today, and their efforts have at times been the only reason the league has continued to flourish. They watched and helped mold the youth of this city, and now are molding the children of that youth. For some of these kids, Ken and Stella are the only adults in their lives that truly care about their efforts and how they are doing."
NWLL Secretary Sue Wolfe: "Although they may be dog tired from long days at the ball fields, I never heard them consider any option other than what is best for the players in Little League. One can only hope to try to take in all their wealth of knowledge, wisdom and passion and attempt to fill the void that will be felt by everyone involved in North Whidbey Little League as well as the whole district. They will be missed."
NWLL Player Agent Walt Bankowski: "They both love Little League and have the interest of the players first in all they do -- and that is the way it should be. They loved being part of all the district and state tournaments that this league hosted after the regular season, ensuring that the league put its best foot forward to welcome teams and families. North Whidbey Little League built a great reputation in this state for hosting quality tournaments because of the hard work Ken and Stella did to make each one right."
(Ken Tyler was invited to umpire in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., in 2007.)