Junior League looking for worldly experience

First Posted: 7/30/2009

PILOT MOUNTAIN Neither rain, nor lightning, nor pooling water could stop the East Surry/Mount Airy Junior League Little League squad from securing an invitation to Atlantas Southwestern regional Junior League tournament Aug. 8.
And why would anything slow them down?
The team, comprised of seven players from East Surry, two from Gentry and one from Mount Airy, walked through the regular season and all-star tournament, finishing with a 9-2 victory over Jackson County in Pfafftown late Wednesday night.
The win captured a chance at Surry becoming the Junior League Little League representative from the Southeastern region at the national Junior League Little League World Series in Taylor, Mich.
All of this from a team who had to combine players from two leagues at the beginning of the season just to compete. While Surry had somewhat of an advantage over other leagues which were forced to spread some of their better players across a number of teams, the team still made it through the regular season in jaw dropping fashion, outscoring its opponents 210-11 in 14 contests.
Andrew French, Mount Airy Little League president and former East Surry Little League president, said the team was not a thought out assortment of the best players from the area, just a combination of interested boys between the ages of 13 and 14.
We didnt handpick this team of players, French said. We advertised in the press, we put advertisements on the marquees at Armfield Civic Center and various other locations and I even made personal phone calls and it was just a lack of interest that forced us to have this combined team.
Because of the lack of interest from that particular age group, the team has been able to stay relatively intact for over a year.
Coach Randy Sheets said the team came together and found a common ground in winning ball games.
A lot of times there is not a lot of interest in Little League in this age group so we could take our team that had been together plus a few more kids and make it our team. Theyve pretty much played together for the last 14 to 15 months.
Sheets said he has seen the teams success in coming together off the field lead to its undeniable success on the field.
The best thing about this team is the kids compete hard against each other in practice, Sheets said. I do my fair share of pushing them, but they all get along well and they hang out together. If you ever see us at the field, everybody is together and that goes a long way for some of the success weve had on the field.
With that team mentality and no shortage of talent, Surry competed against teams from King, Walnut Cove, North Forsyth and Alamance County, waxing all off the board easily. It wasnt until the all-star playoffs did a local team even nip at Surrys heals, with the King all-stars putting up a valiant 7-2 losing effort.
Its impressive to say the least, Sheets said of his teams run. Didnt have to do a lot of coaching in a lot of those games, but it gives the opportunity to get to move them around to play positions they might not get to play. I think at some point we pretty much pitched every kid on the team. It was fun. There was something gained from it, even in one-sided games.
The team will now set its sights on Atlanta, where it will take on the Junior League representatives from across the Southeast separated into two pools of four teams, with squads representing Florida, Georgia and Alabama competing in Surrys initial pool play, with the top two finishers from each pool advancing to a winner-take-all tournament.
Unfortunately with this success comes a large price tag, with French estimating the trip to cost between $600 and $700 for each player to attend, not to mention other family members and supporters.
French said typically the Little League program, in this case East Surry, will pay for each players transportation to and from the event while the hosting Little League, in this case Cartersville, Ga., providing four hotel rooms and two meals a day for each player, normally consisting of hot dogs and snacks.
French said the team is in definite need of any donation to help offset the large cost of the trip. He said the transportation cost for each player should be covered, but the extra costs affecting parents and coaches along with meals and other expenses could add up to being a very pricey excursion, however valuable the experience.
Its a a nice discount, but youve got to have parents watching your kids among other things and it becomes an expensive proposition for each family. You cant just put the 10 kids in three rooms and the coaches in other room and think the kids are going to go to sleep on time. We are in the midst of a really bad economy, but these kids have a chance of a lifetime opportunity and we need those parents to go and they want to. So now you are talking about needing 12 to 13 hotel rooms, which is out-of-pocket for the families. Whatever we can do to fray that expense would be really appreciated. Its what weve done every year for every team.
While the money can sometimes be worrisome, the players should have little to focus on but stamping their ticket to Michigan and a chance at greatness.
When asked if he and fellow coach Troy Sonafrank felt their team would be in a position to make a run at the World Series at the beginning of the season, Sheets said, Without sounding too cocky, absolutely yes. Last summer when we first got together we were 13-and-under playing up in the 14-and-under age group to make us better for this point here. We wanted to play the competition that will make us better. Its not like we went out there since we got together and won every game, but weve had a little success along the road.
Surry will take on Georgia in its opening game of pool play Saturday at 10:30 a.m. Tax-deductible donations may be made to the East Surry Little League.

Contact Thomas Smith at [email protected] or 719-1920.

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