By Alan Richardson
Aweekend of youth baseball and softball competing for state titles brought a packed house to the Morgan County Recreation Department’s facilities at Bill Wood Park this past week. Competing through the week were the eight and under coach pitch baseball (Coach Ryan O’Neal), 10 and under fastpitch softball (Coach Blake Whitaker), 10 and under live pitch baseball (Coach Danny Tillery), and 12 and under baseball played in Hazelhurst (Coach Mike Campbell). The 10 and under baseball squad earned a State Runner-up finish while the 8 and under boys took home a State Championship.
Athletic and Tournament Director, Jay Doss, said, “We had great turnouts and huge crowds of 3-4,000 people that all showed great sportsmanship. People bragged all weekend on our facilities and how well the tournaments went. We owe a special debt of gratitude to our maintenance supervisor, Tony Hardeman, and his crew of Chris Burden, Sam Simmons, Levi Ewing, and Ross Kirkpatrick for their dedication and hard work in the heat. These guys kill themselves around here.”
There were 18 teams participating at Bill Wood Park from all over Georgia. Doss commented, “It was good. It’s what we do, but we couldn’t do it without the facilities and community support that we have. We’re very fortunate.” He continued, “I just love watching the little teams play. They play so hard and the coaches all did an exceptional job teaching fundamentals.”
The Morgan 7-8 year olds bring home a new banner to hoist. Doss praised the champions, “The coach pitch is new this year. I was impressed with this young team’s defense allowing only one run per game. They played great.”
State Champion Coach Ryan O’Neal was proud of the improvement his 7-8 year-olds showed. “We had played three or four scrimmage games coming into the tournament, but we had committed a lot of errors in those games. I think it was because of their inexperience. However, in the tournament the boys went lights out and played some stellar defense with only a handful of errors. For eight and under players that’s impressive. The boys all had some success at the plate. I’d also like to thank my wife, Ginger, for being our team Mom. She organized practices and sent out text messages. That’s why I named her the Head of Communication.” Assistant coaches for the team were Ryan Braswell, Walt Pearson, Andrew Ainslie, and Merritt Ainslie. O’Neal said, “We were fortunate to have the Morgan County High School Head Coach (Merritt) who didn’t have a child playing. He just did it out of the goodness of his heart. Andrew also helped coach the 10 and under team as well.”
Not everyone can be a state champion. Sometimes it’s all about the experience, competition, and having fun. Blake Whitaker said, “Like I told the girls, it’s an honor to be picked for All-Stars. They worked hard and got better, but these other teams showed us where we should be! It’s hard playing these teams! A lot of them are travel girls that play together year round. It was just hard to compete with them with only four weeks of practice. But I was really proud of the girls and look forward to them growing in our community and seeing them play in the future! We have some really talented girls!”
Recreation Director, Lance Alexander, summed up the week with, “This heat whooped our rear ends this week. We had a massive crowd, especially the Morgan county folks, since we had three teams playing at home. It was one of the greatest pictures of community that I have ever seen! I even turned the sprinklers on to cool the kids off, scoring some huge points with the mommas. We had a great week and I hope all the hotels and eating joints made a lot of money.”