“We must be doing something right,” offered Richard A. Zuber, president of the Pine Forge Athletic Association (PFAA) that supports more than 30 baseball and softball teams and 400 players.
“In fact, I’m eager to share what we are purposely doing that has resulted this year in attracting 20% more baseball and softball players. We’re growing when other clubs are in decline. Our players represent 8 school districts in 3 counties: Boyertown, Pottstown, Upper Pottsgrove, Owen J. Roberts, Phoenixville, West Chester and Daniel Boone.
“I like to call our program a ‘hybrid,’” he explained, “and I think it’s the reason for our success. We have something for everyone. We’re more flexible. Our mission is to accommodate what the kids need—not the coaches or the parents—in order for them to learn and love the game.
“PFAA is not a recreational league where all kids learn to play and who want to play ball a few times during the week but are, more or less, casual players,” Zuber explained. “And PFAA is not an AAU—an Amateur Athletic Union—an organization that requires a substantial monetary investment—and stands for highly competitive travel ball tournament play every weekend around the country,” he continued.
“Various programs have been demanding on young players. They have burned out or lost the love of the game. We want PFAA players to have a life—hold jobs, take vacations with family, or play on their school-sponsored teams while they learn the game and compete,” he offered.
“The disadvantage of playing in an AAU is the cost. Because of the costs involved to travel—between $5,000-$10,000—per summer, participation in an AAU is often not available to talented players.
“PFAA takes the best of both worlds: our Senior Babe Ruth baseball teams have a regular season and play several games during the week but also participate in a ‘Tournament Trail’ where players compete in district championships, state-level competition, mid-Atlantic contests, and a World Series playoff. And—just to give credit—PFAA’s senior Babe Ruth team has won its way to the mid-Atlantic contests 4 out of 5 seasons. Our players have the talent, and we’re determined to get to the World Series…and win that too!” Zuber exclaimed.
“Our Junior Babe Ruth teams have also participated in the Tournament Trail; 15Uand 14U teams have played at the PA State Tournament. Little League teams have also played in Cal Ripken state tournaments,” he said.
“And I’m proud to mention that we offer the kids ‘Cadillac’ fields on which to learn and play—3 lighted fields—one at Pine Forge, one in Pottstown, and one of the 2 fields in Bally. And we play on the Hill School’s varsity field,” .
“Just a reminder: our softball program has been in existence for 30 years. We offer softball for ages 6-18. We have produced many softball players who have played at the high school and college levels. They also enjoy playing on a lighted field,” Zuber added.
Zuber’s involvement began over 30 years ago as coach and president of the organization. He keeps two elements front and center: learning the game and loving it. He shares that the first thing he asked the latest player—a young man from Texas–who wanted to sign on to the program: “Do you love playing baseball?”
“I always tell the kids I’m crazy–crazy to be coaching after over 30 years of involvement. But I enjoy watching kids develop, and we’re all about creating cohesive teams. I sincerely believe that PFAA is the place to go to be taught the game of baseball.
“Developing talent and creating cohesive teams are my goals as coach—and also as owner of my real estate company,” he explained. Zuber owns Richard A. Zuber Realty, the largest locally owned real estate agency in the area, and will celebrate 50 years as a licensed realtor in 2023.
“And while I am crazy, it’s so gratifying now and then when a player will join our league after playing in other programs. One of my recent players said, ‘You have made this game fun for me again; I love coming to the ballpark.’ And so, how can I stop coaching when I know there are kids out there who need to fall in love with baseball again?” he concluded.
The 2022 youth baseball and softball season marks the 52nd year of PFAA. The Association was spearheaded in 1970 by Merle Harner and Robert “Skip” Trainer both of whom had children who wanted to play youth sports. Finding that the Boyertown program was overcrowded, Harner—a life-long resident of Douglass Township, Berks County, and retired union carpenter—and Trainer—a long-term resident of Douglass Township, Berks County, and former township supervisor and retired salesman for Prudential Insurance—decided to form PFAA. Zuber took over for Harner and Trainer and has been involved with the program for over 30 years–first as player, then coach, and now president.
PFAA’s mission is to provide instruction on the fundamentals of the game of baseball and softball and to instill good sportsmanship, emphasizing opportunities to play. Its first year consisted of 1 team and 12-15 players who played at a small field situated at the Pine Forge Elementary School. Today PFAA games are played on numerous fields throughout Douglass township, Bally, and Pottstown including the complex at Douglass Park and the Hill School. The association supports more than 30 baseball and softball teams with more than 400 players.