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July 23, 2011

STATE OF THE STATE: Little League tourney kicks-off in Jeffersonville

JEFFERSONVILLE — One Little League Baseball team from Indiana will get the chance to live out a dream and play a trip to the Little League World Series.

But before any child steps foot on the field in Williamsport, Pa., they will take to the diamonds at John and Shirley Woehrle Field in Jeffersonville.

The Jeffersonville Little League park is this year’s host to the 11- and 12-year-old state championship tournament, which held its opening ceremony Saturday morning.

“Twelve-year-old is ‘The’ Little League ... it’s the big tournament,” said Paul Northam, board president of Jeffersonville/GRC Little League, this year’s host organization.

It’s the first time in more than a decade that Jeffersonville has hosted the state competition.

“It only rolls around every 14 years,” said District V Administrator Shelly Gaither, who oversees Little League in Clark, Floyd, Washington and Scott Counties.

Each region — of which there are 14 in Indiana — rotates hosting the state tournament. So, even for veteran administrator Gaither, it is only the second time she has been involved in organizing a state tournament.

Her ties to the Little League game go much farther back than the last time the tournament was in town. Her father coached and her brother played on the Jeff/GRC team that won the state title in 1965 and went on to the Little League World Series.

In addition to a few members of the 1965 championship team, members of the 2008 Jeffersonville/GRC team that competed in the Little League World Series were on hand at the opening ceremonies.

While there was certainly a nod to the past, the ceremony was still about kicking-off this year’s tournament.

Fourteen regional teams will face off in a pool-play style tournament with the championship game to be held Thursday night. During the opening weekend of the tournament, each team will play and those surviving out of pool play will begin single-elimination games.

Gaither said she was pleased that all 14 regions are being represented in Jeffersonville.

“I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way than to bring all 14, because I think they all deserve to be here and they all deserve a chance,” she said. “We used to bring just eight in. This way everybody has a fair chance.”

She added there was something else a little different about this year’s tournament.

“This is a much grander scale than any we’ve held before,” Gaither said.

While she was referencing all of the teams that were playing, skydivers bringing in game balls, an American flag and Indiana state flag helped to make her point Saturday morning.

“I just love having them here,” Gaither said of the teams.

As part of the opening ceremony, there was a timed throwing competition for all the Little League teams. The New Albany Little Leaguers, the District V representative in the tournament, are hoping it was a good omen that they won that contest.

The winner of the state tourney will advance to the regional competition in Indianapolis. The winner of that moves on to Williamsport.

Although the tournament is clearly centered around a competition, and winning can provide the youngsters with a unique opportunity, the hosts were sure to emphasize the greater importance of the tournament.

“This should be about having fun and not about winning and losing,” Northam said. “So many times parents and coaches get wrapped up in the winning and losing, and they lose sight of what it’s all about — having fun.

“I’ve been in this 10 to 15 years, and what I know about kids is an hour after they lose a game they’ve forgotten and they’re off doing something else.”

• Read coverage of the tournament all week in the News and Tribune, including a special page each day Monday through Friday dedicated to the action.

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Theater students rehearse a scene from "Seussical the Musical," directed by Silver Creek Theater Director, Alonzo Richmond, and New Albany Theater Director Amy Harpenau at the New Albany Riverfront Amphitheater Thursday evening. The musical includes around 70 students from 12 local schools that will be performing Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.

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