Leland 8U All-Stars are headed to Mississippi for the Division 1 Dixie Youth World Series.
America’s great pastime is alive in Leland, especially for the 12 boys headed for Laurel, Mississippi, to play in the Division 1 Dixie Youth Baseball World Series.
This Eight and Under All-Star team won all of the two dozen or so games they’ve played so far in 2021, including season games and the division and state tournaments. They leave for Laurel on August 5 and face Alabama on August 7 at 2 pm. To prepare, the team practices for up to two and a half hours five or six days a week. A pep rally is scheduled for 6:30 pm on Tuesday, August 3, at Leland Park, 1494 Village Road.
“They are a great group of kids,” says Miles Hall, manager of the team, whose son, Grant, is second baseman. “We also have an outstanding group of parents. They are stepping up to help everyone get to Mississippi.”
Hall says the hardest part of his job at the World Series will be facing the heat.
“We’re encouraging the kids to drink water, not soda,” he says. “We don’t want an issue with dehydration.”
April Perkins, who is scorekeeper for the team and whose son, Amari, is first baseman, agrees and says the biggest challenge will be getting the boys to adjust to the heat and humidity.
“Our mantra is attitude and effort,” says third base coach Brent Bunn, whose son, Garrett, is short stop. He recalls a game the team came close to losing in the state tournament. He explains that in the sixth and final inning, Leland was behind by three runs. “We came back and scored four runs to advance to the finals,” he says. “It was super exciting. One boy got a hit, then there was an error. The boys stepped up and won on the last play. They never gave up. They believed in each other, and they are just having fun.”
First base coach Jared Speight, whose son, Camden, is pitcher, says it’s fun to watch the team learn and be successful. “I firmly believe they have the ability to win it all,” he says. “We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing.”
Speight’s wife, Kristina, expresses how pleased she is to be involved with the team and praises the boys’ abilities.
“Our team has a high baseball I.Q.,” she says. “It’s hard to score runs against them because they know where the ball goes, and they can field it quickly and make the right play.” Besides, she adds, “They are fast.”
The coaching squad of Hall, Bunn, Perkins and Speight have decades of experience coaching the game. Kristina, who also has coaching experience, describes their technique. “They are all about positive coaching and positive reinforcement,” she says. “They build the kids up.”
“We’re trying to create better baseball players, but ultimately better young men,” Bunn says.
“An important quality in a coach is to pay attention to each player’s skill set and focus on how to grow that player’s skill set to make the team better,” Perkins adds.
“I tell them, try every day no matter what it is, fielding, base running, whatever, try to get one percent better,” Bunn says. “Don’t do it for me. Do it for you.”
The team has held fundraisers to pay for the bus they chartered to take them to Laurel. The trip will take about 12 hours, including rest stops. The league will pay for the gas the bus needs and the room and food expenses for the coaches, players and league president.
“We have a lot of community support,” Kristina says, and adds that several businesses have provided sponsorships.
This trip is not precedent setting. In 2016 the Leland 8U All-Stars traveled to Laurel as well.
“Leland youth baseball has a history of producing some quality teams,” Perkins says. “We are going to give it our best shot.”
Hall says he anticipates seeing the team’s reaction to everything that will occur, especially since they’ve never been at this level of baseball competition.
“They are fun to be around,” Hall says. “I look forward to hanging out with them.”
“Maybe this is our year,” Bunn says.
Wish Them Luck
A pep rally is scheduled for 6:30 pm on Tuesday, August 3, at Leland Park, 1494 Village Road in Leland.