Nothing speaks of summer quite like an old-fashioned hot dog and a good baseball game. This week, more than 120 11- and 12-year-old boys are vying for the championship at the Georgia 11/12 Little League State Championship Tournament in Richmond Hill and a chance to head to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
The tournament got under way Saturday, and come Friday only one team will go on to the Southeast Region Tournament in Warner Robins. But if there’s one thing the South Bryan County Recreation Department and more than 20 local businesses and organizations throughout Bryan County hope to guarantee, it’s that win or lose, all 120 families from throughout the state of Georgia have a great week in Richmond Hill.
The idea to seek donations from local businesses throughout Bryan County was conceived just last year when SBCR Director Kay Green had her first chance to play host for the 2012 Georgia 10/11 Little League State Championship. Unfortunately the costs of preparing the fields and purchasing new equipment trounced her budget for welcoming gifts and big-ticket items, such as catering for the welcome banquet.
“We probably spend anywhere from $3,000-$5,000 just getting the fields ready,” Green said. “Any donations outside of that go straight to the kids who participate in the event. Without those donations, we wouldn’t be able to give away prizes or have the banquet at all. It’s about the experience.”
Seeking to make that experience one that the visiting families would never forget, Green went door-to-door accumulating coupons, gifts, cash donations and anything else that could help the boys have just as much fun off the field as they would on it. By the time opening ceremonies began, Green had compiled 120 gift bags for the families, a variety of door prizes and even a few large pepperoni pizzas.
“The biggest door prize last year was from a pizza place that isn’t here anymore,” Green said. “There was some sort of miscommunication because I had asked for coupons from the owner, but when I got there, he told me he needed 20 minutes.”
To her surprise, Green returned 20 minutes later and was greeted with four large pepperoni pizzas.
“Those kids at the banquet didn’t want the coupons, anyway. They wanted the pizzas!” Green laughed.
It’s that kind of hospitality that Green said she is happy to see repeated from local businesses for this year’s tournament.
Pat Callahan, owner of Papa’s Pizza To Go, says he’ll donate to anyone who asks, but is just as happy to offer his pizza and breadsticks to hungry Little-Leaguers as he is to anyone else in the area. And like many businesses in the area, he’s happy to see a spike in business during tournament week.
“That park down there just is a great destination for a tournament. The more people it brings into the community, the more important it is to give back,” said Callahan.
This year, Callahan donated many of the free pizza coupons and weekly discounts that went into the participants’ gift-bags. But he certainly wasn’t alone: All things Chocolate donated door prizes and discounts for the second year in a row. Baldinos, Fish Tales, Midnight Star Pottery and the Richmond Hill Pharmacy also donated door prizes for the Little-Leaguers, and many businesses throughout the area pledged their support by filling the bags with discounts, coupons and small gifts.
While Green wouldn’t typically ask Bryan County’s Little-Leaguers to help assemble the gift-bags, the boys gathered last week at the SBCR gym to take stock of the goods and bag some of the gifts that will go out to the families of the incoming participants.
“The kids really get a kick out of the goody bags and the prizes — and we do gear them toward the kids,” said Kay. “But it’s also about giving the people participating in the tournament a warm and friendly feeling of Richmond Hill — and we wouldn’t have anything to give away without those donations.”
For a complete list of donors or more information about a specific donor, visit sbcarec.org or call 912-756-4075.