As we reach the middle of August and school is around the corner, the World turns their focus to one area in Pennsylvania. The Little League World Series (LLWS) is upon us. Tens of thousands of people will flock to the Williamsport, Pennsylvania area for this event. Hotels are booked. Restaurants will be busy. The area's economy will get its usual economic boost that many businesses rely-on and expect.
The games themselves are actually played in South Williamsport in two stadiums. This is separated from Williamsport by the Susquehanna River. The postal address is in Williamsport, but the games are played there. Regardless, all the surrounding areas are hit with the tidal wave of media, spectators and other tourists. The games begin on Thursday, August 15 (the day after the parade) and end on August 25. They are regularly broadcast on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC.
The LLWS is composed of 16 teams: 8 are from United States and 8 are International. They are broken up into two pools (The U.S. and the International). The final game is always a U.S Team vs. International Team. The United States teams are divided by regions. The International Teams are the divided into world-wide regions. This year the furthest team is traveling from Australia. (If you are interested in the history aspect of Little League, there is a Little League World Series Museum located near the stadiums).
The interesting thing is the teams competing do not get paid to come. They do receive help financially from the Little League Organization for travel expenses and are given a place to stay. However that is only for the team and the coaches themselves. Parents and family must pay out of pocket to see their kids play. This could easily cost thousands of dollars and many receive help from their local area.
The games themselves are manned mostly by volunteers. The cost to watch? Free. According to the Little League website, the Lamade Stadium, (which is the main stadium for the final rounds) seats about 3,300 fans. Many choose to sit on "the hill" which is around the area around the stadium. That can accommodate 30,000 people or even more. And it has. It is not uncommon for tens of thousands of people to show up to a game. When a local Pennsylvanian team made it to the World Series in 2011 (for the first time since 1969), the crowds hit well over 40,000 people.
As someone who went to college in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, I always found it interesting that something so massive was in my backyard. Classes always began the Monday after the LLWS was completed. So the days before hand, it was common to go to the Lycoming Mall and see the team from Mexico outside Dicks Sporting Goods or go to Denny's and see the Northwest Team eating breakfast.
In fact when someone outside of the area would ask where I went to school, I would answer "Lycoming College." They would then usually give a puzzled look (the norm for a small liberal arts school). I would then usually utter the phrase "Located in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where the Little League World Series is played." The confused look would erase from their face with a form of recognition.
What makes the LLWS so great is the sportsmanship that is displayed by the players, coaches and spectators. With the current state of the Major League Baseball and some other sports, it is interesting to see the way these "kids" act compared to some of their idols. There isn't any swearing or fighting. If they win, they cheer and are excited, but are also quickly to congratulate the other team on a good game. It didn't matter from what corner of the Earth they are from or how they truly feel about the other team.
While I still sometimes wonder why people care about the LLWS, I am happy that people from all corners of the world do. Should it be broadcast on TV? Yes. While some of these athletes (they are athletes) may go on the Major Leagues, most won't. This is their time to shine and have fun. While some people may argue that it shouldn't be to this level (I couldn't imagine the pressure), the World should be watching. Leaders, politicians, professional athletes and the average fan could be reminded by these Little Leaguers that great sportsmanship (how you treat others) hard work, fairness, and the love of the game matters in the long run. Play Ball!