Kids still the story at LLWS

Posted Aug. 25, 2009, at 9:23 p.m.

There is never complete agreement on the buildup that surrounds the Little League World Series, now being played in South Williamsport, Pa.

Covering the event for ESPN, one sees both the games and the behind-the-scenes activities surrounding an event that now garners national attention.

The best part continues to be the kids. They are THE story, no matter what else happens.

The sheer joy on their faces when they arrive at the complex for the first time never wears thin. Their reaction is multiplied by the times they have watched games on television over the years.

Now they are here.

Many of the teams have played together for years, coming up through the Little League age groups. They are all-star teams, composed of the best from the Little League programs of the communities they represent.

More and more, the kids are on travel teams with the same coaches who come to Williamsport. They are groomed to make a run at a Little League World Series title.

Still, the warm stories are the likes of the team from Kentucky this year. It came from Russellville, a rural town an hour from Nashville.

There are only three teams in the 11- and 12-year-old age group in the program and only 33 players.

The coaches chose 11 of the kids to be on the all-star team, with only 10 remaining by the time they reached Williamsport.

They practiced in a barn owned by one of the dads. The town held a radio telethon to raise money to send the families of the players to Williamsport. They collected more than $62,000.

They lost the first two games of the regional tournament by big scores. That generally spells defeat and the end of the season.

The 11 refused to go home, however. They beat the Nos. 1 and 3 seeds to win the regional in a four-game sweep that no one predicted.

They would not get a win in Williamsport. They lost to powerhouse teams from Texas and California and suffered a tough final-game loss to Peabody, Mass.

They stayed positive and smiling.

Their coach reminded them of how many kids were watching them in Williamsport and wishing they were here.

They will take back to Kentucky memories for a lifetime. They met kids from Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Chinese Taipei, Mexico and seven other U.S. states.

The parents and coaches will have to help to keep the whole experience in perspective — not too big, but not to be forgotten.

Their story, and all the others like it, represent the joy of the Little League World Series.

It’s not that the more structured programs can’t have the same experience, it’s just that it’s a little harder when you haven’t taken batting practice under a barn roof and had only one kid sitting on the bench as a sub.

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