The dust has settled, the smoke has cleared and I’m almost out of clichés, so here are five things I learned from the Georgia Little League 11/12 State Championship Tournament, played July 20-26 in Richmond Hill.
1. South Bryan County Recreation doesn’t mess around when it comes to putting on a tournament. It’s not easy in this day and time to keep folks happy, least of all parents, but the SBRCD staff more than managed. If I were grading this thing, I’d give Kay Green and her staff an A-plus. I’d also give field generals Eric Gerber and Dan Goggins extra credit, because they somehow managed to keep the fields more than playable despite enough rain to float a medium-sized ark. When it wasn’t raining, it was pouring. Somehow it stopped long enough for 10 teams to wade through five days of pool play, two semifinal games and then a championship. And SBCRD secretary Kim Neumann deserves a raise just on general principle.
2. Warner Robins does not like Columbus Northern, and vice versa. When it comes to rivalries, Columbus Northern-Warner Robins is the Georgia-Florida or Carolina-Clemson of Little League baseball. They take it that seriously. And they’re that good. And they know it.
3. The majority of Little League fans are good people and well behaved. Kudos to the fans, players, coaches and parents who spent the better part of seven days being good sports. That’s what Little League baseball is all about at the end of the day. Sure there are cranks, like the tank-top wearing old geezer from Warner Robins who bad-mouthed everything not wearing the team’s trademark red and blue. They’re blessedly few.
4. There are some very large 11-, 13 year olds out there. Cartersville, Columbus Northern and Warner Robins each had some kids who looked as if they took time out from playing JV football or working construction or roping steers to pitch in on their local Little League teams.
5. I’m a fan of the folks who built the Coastal Little League program, and that starts with 12U coach Scott Karnibad. Karnibad is good for the game because he’s got the right idea about what it means to coach kids and what Little League’s all about. “We try to preach every day that the No. 1, No. 2 rule, No. 3 and No. 4 rule is to have fun,” he said. “I wish these kids could take time to understand and enjoy the experience and the friendships and relationships they’re building. We want them to enjoy every pitch. Just enjoy every pitch.” In addition, Karnibad has helped bring the fledgling program far the past few years --- his Coastal team has held its own against both Warner Robins and Columbus Northern on more than one occasion and was a game away from again advancing to the semifinals in this tournament. Karnibad also knows what it’ll take to keep the Little League program moving forward – for starters, getting more local kids who would ordinarily join a travel team interested in playing rec ball and then establishing a feeder system similar to those in other programs. “The talent we’ve got here as far as players is amazing,” he said. “We’ve got a great group of kid in our program and in the rec department. If they continue, that 9-10 (age) group has every chance to compete with Columbus and Warner Robins. It’s just a matter of getting enough coaches and kids to stay interested in rec ball.”