MINFORD — There’s only a handful of times an area sports team has been called the greatest, or the best in the state, but one of those times, a group of 14 kids from Minford, Ohio reached that pinnacle of being called the best team in Ohio. In 1991, a team of 14 young baseball players captured the hearts of Scioto County, and became forever immortalized in the Minford community.
In the summer of 1991, the Minford sent their Senior League team into the state tournament, for a chance to advance to the Little League World Series. Saturday, they were remembered and celebrated for their accomplishments on the baseball diamond, during the Minford Little League Opening Day ceremonies.
“It started on July sixth,” Mark Conkel, Manager of the 1991 team, said to the crowd at the ceremonies. “They won two ball games, and then lost the third one in the districts. They had to play the next five to get a chance to go to the state tournament. I told them if they did that, I’d get a flat-top, and five games later they were on their way to state, and I was on my way to the barber shop.”
The young Minford team showed a lot of resilience in the state tournament that year. While playing in Shelby, Ohio, Minford got two wins over Elyria-North and Ashtabula. Minford would face Ashtabula again in the finals, but the Ashtabula team would come out on top in the second game the two teams met.
“There were a lot of heads down in the dugout,” Conkel said. “They came back out, and traded three runs going into the fifth inning, and ended up winning the state championship.”
The journey wasn’t over for the newly crowned State Senior League Champions. After winning the championship on Sunday afternoon, the Minford team had to be in Lake Station, Indiana the following day, to continue to play, this time for an opportunity to play in the Little League World Series.
“Had they won three games, they would have been taken by bus to O’Haire aiport, and flown to Kissimmee, Florida for the World Series,” Conkel said.
Unfortunately, the Minford team suffered two losses to Michigan, and Illinois, eliminating them from the tournament.
“I had to remind them of what they had done,” Conkel said. “They were District 11 champs, and Ohio State champs. They represented Minford, and the State of Ohio very well.”
Eight members of the 1991 team were able to be on hand for the Minford Little League Opening Day ceremonies to commemorate the team, and kick off the 2016 Little League season.
“The biggest thing I look at now, is at the time, back then, I didn’t really realize what we were doing,” Joey Kaut, member of the 1991 team said. “Now that it’s 25 years later, looking back on it, what we didn’t know at the time was that it was a big thing, especially for a small community, but we just didn’t know what we were doing for the community. We were just happy we were winning.”
Several of the players on the team are now involved with Minford Little League, helping the youth of the small community build the same love of baseball they have.
“We’re all still pretty much, from that team, is still involved in baseball, because every one of us love baseball,” Chris Lore, member of the 1991 team, and current Little League coach said. “We just love the game, and we’re still doing it.”
“Guys with kids are coaching their kids, and I umpire,” Kaut added. “We have just stayed involved.”
One of the goals of the 1991 team reunion was to help motivate the kids participating in Little League, whether it is baseball or softball.
“Absolutely we think it will (motivate them),” Lore said. “We hope so, I want them to say, ‘we can do it.’”
“I hope there is some kid sitting out there that says, “you know what, I want to do that,’” Kaut said. “I hope it gives them a goal to set forward, and to keep working hard for.”
Another member of the 1991 State Champion team, Ryan Conkel, hoped the ceremony was an encouragement to all the teams surrounding the field.
“What I’m going to do, when I get a chance to talk to them, is let them know there is a Bible verse that goes along, when Jesus was washing his disciples’ feet during the Last Supper, and he more or less was telling them that if you become the least, you become the greatest,” Ryan said. “I think that’s what the success of our team was based on. Nobody wanted to have prominence, you know, it was all a team thing. While we all had talent, we were all contributing, whether we were on the field or off the field.”
“That’s the thing with this team, everybody stepped up,” Lore said. “It wasn’t just one person on the team that was the star, everybody, when they got their chance, they shined. That’s what brought this team together.”
Manager Mark Conkel, while being proud of his players’ accomplishments on the baseball diamond in the summer of 1991, is more proud of the individuals they have become as adults, and the time they give back to the community that gave so much to them.
“You’ve got deacons, nurses, and engineers, just high achievers,” Conkel said. “A lot of them are coaching down here now, which just makes me so proud.”
Reach Michael Hamilton at 740-353-3101, ext 1931, or on Twitter @MikeHamilton82.