What a way to end the Little League state tournament Wednesday night as White Hall clipped Pine Bluff Western 5-4 to claim its second straight regional bid to Waco, Texas.
These two teams battled it out for two weeks in district and state tournament action, producing some of the finest baseball I have seen at any level in the past few months. Towering home runs, dominating pitching performances and some outstanding glove work in the field provided baseball fans with more than enough excitement to compensate the price of admission.
Speaking of fans, I observed Pine Bluff’s and White Hall’s fan bases during both tournaments and saw and heard some things that, quite frankly, made me cringe. These two teams, full of talented 11- and 12-year-old boys, left it all on the field. They played the game the right way, regardless of the score.
Even in the championship tilt, when it was all on the line, JaKobi Jackson belted a first-inning home run to put Western up 2-0 before an out could be recorded. Jackson’s bomb was back-to-back after Braelin Hence led off the game going yard. As Jackson was rounding the bags, White Hall third baseman Dutton Day extended a congratulatory hand as he approached third base — true class and true respect of the game itself.
But it was a different game outside the fences and I will not spare anyone’s feelings in this matter.
During the championship game, one of Western’s fans was taunting White Hall pitcher Layne Hartsfield, yelling his name to the top of her shrilled-voice lungs. It got to the point that Little League District Administrator Travis Young was forced to make an announcement for all fans to cheer for their team and not against the competition.
Prior to that, the Western Little League president seemed belligerent to officials because there was a misunderstanding of when infield was going to take place. This was before the game even started. She even shouted from her perch some 50 yards away for the team to get back on the field and take infield — as if she were in charge.
After the championship game, one of the fathers from Pine Bluff was waiting for the umpires at the gate and had choice words and a pointed finger ready to express his displeasure of the officiating crew.
These things do not go unnoticed, not by other parents or the players. And who better to learn how to behave from than your parents. Thankfully, the players did not allow their overbearing fans to affect them. Or maybe they did. Who knows?
White Hall’s fans were not perfect, and I am in no way saying they are. However, not once did I hear them taking aim at an 11- or 12-year-old child on the field. I heard the usual griping of a questionable call by an umpire but it did not escalate further than that.
White Hall won the state title, fair and square. It is the fourth state title for that city this year as the Little Leaguers followed in the footsteps of the high school’s baseball and softball teams and the AA American Legion team this summer. Whatever it is that propels White Hall to the top could be a lesson for others to follow.
Attitude determines altitude. Western’s players deserved respect and got it by performing at a higher standard on the field. The parents need to take lessons from their children on how to behave off of it.
Chan Davis is a sports writer for The Commercial. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.