While his physical address isn't in Little Rock proper, Larry Betz (the Grand Poobah of All Things Kickball) has spent enough Sundays on our kickball fields (and contributed to many of our charitable causes) to earn him a key to the city.
1. Name, occupation, years in LR, neighborhood: Larry “Poo” Betz, Special Events Coordinator for Youth Home and founder of the Little Rock Kickball Association. My neighborhood? I actually live in Conway but ask any kickballer if they consider Interstate Park their second home. It is where the “Redball Nation” comes together every week to play, hang out, and give back. It is as strong a community as there is in central Arkansas.
2. How did you get involved in LRKA? I started the LRKA in the spring of 2004 in honor of two dear friends who passed away. Originally, it was a bar and restaurant league (which is why we still only play on Sundays) but quickly it grew to involve people from all walks of life.
Did you have any idea it would be such a hit? We started with 16 teams and have now grown to nearly 100 teams per season and there was no way I could have ever predicted that we would become one of the largest leagues in the nation and certainly one of the largest groups in Arkansas. Over the last decade, nearly 20,000 people have played in the LRKA! When we first started out, I quickly realized that people of my generation didn’t belong to the kinds of groups our parents belonged to. We aren’t necessarily members of fraternal orders, clubs, or even necessarily churches like they used to be and people want to belong to something larger than themselves. Early on, we started a community service component to the league and people really connected with the opportunity to give back. Since our inception and through the creation of our own non-profit, The Big Red Ball Charitable Foundation, we have raised over $350k for local charities (including Hearts and Hooves, Youth Home, Our House, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, CASA, Pfeifer Youth Camp, and the Little Rock Animal Shelter). We are more than an adult sports league--we are a social/community service organization that happens to play a sport and we consider each other family. We put that idea into practice all the time and I have seen players come together and help each other through very tough situations. It is a beautiful thing and that’s why the league works; it’s beautiful.
3. If you ate a different meal at a different local restaurant for a day, what would they be? While I have a broad pallet and enjoy all sorts of daring foods, I enjoy seeing how different restaurants handle the staples. For me, the staples include hot wings, NY Strips, salsa, and Southern comfort food. If at least one of these items aren’t on the menu, it probably means I will just be settling for something. When it comes to hot wings, All American Hot Wings is the place to go! I cannot wait until they open their new location--I want to go to that! or steaks, Al Watkins and his crew at The Butcher Shop cannot be beat and they also have one of the best crab cakes in the city. Salsa can be tricky but I like mine with some kick. Fonda’s has a delicious nontraditional salsa served warm that is just wonderful. For interesting takes on southern food, you cannot do better South on Main. I love savoring every single bite and making the time I spend there an experience.
4. How would you describe LR to someone who has never been here? Little Rock is the biggest little town you will find. Everyone knows everyone and we are all connected in some way or another. This creates a safety net like none other. People are comfortable to be themselves and have the comfort to pursue their individual passions. As with any community, we have issues dealing with stratification but our lines are not as engrained. When you find a place where people are comfortable like at a tailgate or on the kickball fields, you see people of all walks sharing what they have to make the afternoon better; to make the community stronger.
5. Where do you make sure to take out-of-town guests when they visit? There are a few time capsules in LR that inhabit the late night scene. These places buck the norm and are so different from what many people consider a bar now a days but these are legitimate, old school dives that deserve to be experienced and preserved. Everyone has to sit at the bar at White Water Tavern and just accept that you are sitting someplace with history and ghosts and everyone has to try the legendary Midtown burger before they settle down and leave their late nights behind them.