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NECBL On Hold; Thetford On Deck: Entrepreneur Agrees To Be Panthers’ AD

Lebanon — Noah Crane is having an up-and-down month.

Down: The Lebanon resident’s efforts to bring a New England Collegiate Baseball League team to the Upper Valley have hit another snag. Unable to raise the necessary money required to upgrade his desired home field, his pet project is now on the back burner until 2016 at the earliest.

Up: While still hopeful of bringing summer amateur baseball to the region eventually, Crane will take on a new challenge in August as athletic director at Thetford Academy. In hiring Crane, TA is getting a person versed in a wide variety of athletic business pursuits with past experience in high school coaching as well.

Crane, 35, is in the process of removing himself from oversight of the Laconia Muskrats, the fifth-year NECBL entry he operates with his father, Jonathan. He’ll join Thetford once the baseball season concludes, comfortable in the belief that he can handle his duties with the Panthers and still work toward his goal of NECBL baseball in the Upper Valley.

“I can do both,” said Crane, whose position at TA is part-time. “I’m transitioning out of the Muskrats (as their general manager) at the end of this season. That gives me the ability to focus within the Thetford community. If I have the opportunity to work on the side to bring baseball, the NECBL, to the Upper Valley, this would allow me to do that.”

Down: Crane first approached Lebanon school authorities about his NECBL idea last year, but eventually shifted his focus to Hartford’s Maxfield property when Lebanon proved untenable. Hoping to raise $350,000 to pay for necessary upgrades to Maxfield’s baseball diamond — lights, grandstands, concessions and the like — to meet NECBL standards, Crane pitched a sponsorship plan to three Upper Valley businesses (he declined to name them) in recent weeks only to be turned down by all of them.

The town of Hartford needed Crane to commit to scheduling the upgrades by June 1, so as to get them done while construction crews were on the Maxfield site working toward the recreational facility’s planned debut next year. Crane couldn’t meet the deadline without the funds, so he postponed his Upper Valley NECBL plans for another year.

“I want them to see a value in what this sort of entity brings to a community, for us to see it as a way to unite,” Crane said. “Baseball is a great uniter of people, and this area is very philanthropic. This helps to foster that even more. … As a 501c3 (nonprofit organization), our core mission is to promote and educate and give back. I want partners who share that vision.”

In retrospect, Crane believes his latest plans fell victim to timing and organization. He plans to retool, eschewing big dollars for littler ones: “The easier route for this, with extra time, is to find 10, 15, 20, 30 smaller donors to do this. I’m hoping to have a business with naming rights on the field, another on the team itself, doing things in that fashion. …

“The reception’s been positive. They’re all excited; they’ve liked the idea. It’s somehow a matter of turning that into actual donations.”

Up: While summer baseball simmers, Crane has a new commitment in succeeding Jade Huntington as Thetford’s athletic director. It’s the first such job for the Woodstock High and University of Massachusetts graduate, who has worked in minor league baseball sales and served college and high school coaching stints in past years, most recently with Mascoma High baseball.

“The school community has a wonderful reputation of being a great academic institution and a place where they have young people and young students as a focus,” Crane said. “I was impressed with everyone I met up there in terms of welcoming me and being part of a school community again. I’m looking forward to jumping back into that setting.”

While the Panthers reside in Vermont Division III, most of the school’s teams play schedules loaded with D-II competition during their regular seasons. Such preparation bore fruit in the school’s first state girls basketball championship last winter.

“For me, it’s just a learning curve in having not done this sort of job before,” Crane said. “It’s learning about the coaches and taking a more comprehensive look at athletics from scheduling to working with coaches and putting those pieces together. It’s a broader scope than I’m used to.

“I like the idea of being able to work at the ground level. I’ll continue to grow and progress and participate and find ways to get kids interested in athletics, show them the value that athletics can bring to the process.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.