When a community is picked to host a state tournament of any kind, the resulting significance of having said tournament is, indeed, special for all parties involved.
From Saturday through Monday, the West Portsmouth Little League will get to host such an event as the Ohio Little League Major Division (12U) State Softball Tournament will commence at Doc Singleton Park’s Boone Coleman Field in West Portsmouth.
For Chad Sayre, hosting such a tournament is a treat, especially when one considers not only the history of the teams in said tournament, but the ability to appeal the citizens watching their respective teams — such as Tallmadge, Canfield, and Kingsville in addition to the local powerhouse, Wheelersburg.
“We’re happy to have it here in West Portsmouth,” Sayre, the President of the West Portsmouth American Little League, said. “We’re looking forward to putting on a good tournament for the players, coaches, and fans to enjoy.”
With all four programs, two words come to mind: winning tradition.
Between Wheelersburg, Tallmadge, Canfield, and Kingsville, the success that’s been unearthed in Little League play has translated to the high school game at an exceptional rate, as the towns have combined to produce 10 state championships and 25 OHSAA State Final Four appearances at the high school, with Kingsville producing players in three separate schools within Ashtabula County (Conneaut, 2000; Ashtabula Edgewood, 2006; and Jefferson Area, 2015).
“Tallmadge has continued its own softball excellence for an extended period of time — 40 years, that I can remember,” Sayre said. “Canfield has been a prominent name in the softball world for the last 20, 25 years. They’re a power. Wheelersburg, I mean, what else can you say? Everybody knows Wheelersburg’s successes in softball and in the remaining sports that they field. I don’t know much about Kingsville, but I’ve spoken to their coaching staff, and it seems like they put a lot of effort into their program, as well.”
11 of those 25 OHSAA State Final Four appearances, or 44 percent, have come from 2000 onward, including each of Wheelersburg’s four appearances in the Final Four (2004, 2015-17) and each of Canfield’s two (Canfield, 2008; Canfield South Range, 2016).
“That just speaks to the player development at these early ages,” Sayre said. “Some kids peak early, while others don’t peak until later on. However, the player development from those early ages on has worked. It’s stuck with the players, and they continue to play as teams. That’s what that tells me. The way that they run their programs are the way that you want to run a program from T-ball on through the high school level.”
In addition to tournament play — which begins at 11 a.m. Saturday when Kingsville and Canfield square off and is followed by a 1 p.m. matchup between Wheelersburg and Tallmadge — the West Portsmouth American Little League, which is hosting the tournament this weekend, also decided to put together a state banquet for each of the players on the four participating teams, their coaches, and their parents/family members, which will take place on the grounds of the SOMC Friends Center at 6 p.m., instead of just simply feeding the teams as has been customary in the past.
“Whenever you host a state tournament, you are required to feed the teams,” Sayre said. “We decided that it would be best to kick it up a notch and go with a banquet, so I’m hoping that that’ll be something that the girls, their parents, and their coaches will really enjoy. Al left the area to pursue his professional career, but in his mind and heart, he never truly left the area,” Sayre said. “If you talk to Al, he’s always been proud of Portsmouth and he’s always been proud of where he comes from. Al has been very much a part of building up Portsmouth as a whole.”
To make the banquet even more thrilling, Al Oliver, a well-known Major League veteran of Portsmouth who collected a .303 batting average in 18 seasons with seven different organizations (Pittsburgh, Texas, Montreal, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Toronto, and the Los Angeles Dodgers) will be speaking to each of the players involved in the state tournament.
Oliver, a seven-time All-Star, hit 219 home runs, drove in 1,326 runs, won a World Series Championship with Pittsburgh in 1971, and finished third in the NL MVP race in 1982 by hitting .331 in that campaign with 22 home runs and a career-high 109 RBI, according to Baseball Reference.
“He should be a Hall of Famer,” Sayre said of Oliver. “The one thing that really gets overlooked with Al is the fact that he posted such a low strikeout rate. He only struck out once every 13 times he went up to the plate. I believe that’s something that’s really missed in his evaluation. When you talk about Mike Trout, who is arguably the game’s best player today, you’re talking about a guy that strikes out once every five times that he’s come up to the plate. Al Oliver deserves to be in Cooperstown. I’m thrilled to have him.”
Oliver’s stats, however, only tell a small story of his competitiveness, especially when one gets to behold Oliver’s personality and fire when speaking to the general public.
“That fits right into the Little League message,” Sayre said. “It’s about communities competing at the state level. I think that the message sometimes gets lost when we push kids into travel ball and when we push kids to focus on a single sport. This is where it should be at. It’s representing a community and being proud of your community. Al just fits right into that framework.”
The most important quality to Sayre, however, is upholding the tradition of the 12U State Softball Tournament, and making the atmosphere one that the players and coaches will remember for a long time to come.
“I don’t know if we have ever hosted the state tournament,” Sayre said. “We have hosted district tournaments, so it is important to me to have this in West Portsmouth. We have three teams that are within an hour’s drive from each other from Northeast Ohio and an outstanding, very competitive program in Wheelersburg, so it means something to us to have them drive down, stay here, and play in this tournament. It’s an honor to be able to host such a thing. These young ladies deserve to have something nice, and I just hope that we can put on a good tournament atmosphere for them.”
SCHEDULE for Ohio Little League Major Division (12U) State Softball Tournament (Double Elimination Tournament):
Game 1, 11 a.m. — Kingsville vs. Canfield
Game 2, 1 p.m. — Tallmadge vs. Wheelersburg
Game 3, 11 a.m. — Winner of Game 1 vs. Winner of Game 2
Game 4, 1 p.m. — Loser of Game 1 vs. Loser of Game 2
Game 5, 3 p.m. — Loser of Game 3 vs. Winner of Game 4
Game 6, 10 a.m. — Championship Game (Winner of Game 3 vs. Winner of Game 5)
Game 7, if necessary, 12 p.m. (only if Winner of Game 5 defeats Winner of Game 3 in first title battle)*
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT