For the second-straight summer, Richmond Hill will be the site of a Little League state championship tournament.
But there’s one big difference between then and now. This year, the road to Williamsport, Pa., for Georgia teams runs through Richmond Hill.
Coastal Little League will play host to the state championship tournament for 11-12-year-old’s, and the team that wins the Georgia crown will have a better-than-average shot at playing in the Little League World Series in Williamsport in front of a worldwide audience on ESPN.
“We’re thrilled and we’re honored to have it here,” said South Bryan County Recreation Director Kay Green of the Little Leagues state championship tournament. “Georgia usually has a team at the Little League World Series, so the reality is the people of Richmond Hill, Bryan County and the Savannah area could be watching a team play here that will go on to play in Williamsport. These are the kids on the way to the show.”
The tournament begins July 20 and Green and Coastal Little League officials already are making preparations for the event they consider both a tournament and a community showcase. The event got generally high marks last season from both Little League officials and visiting fans.
“I really appreciated all the community support and involvement and the business involvement we had last year,” Green said, adding weekday games will be played at night this year in order to allow more local fans to attend. The tournament will run through July 23.
Green also is appealing to local businesses to again welcome the visiting teams on marquees, as well as consider donating items for welcome packages for the anticipated 120 families who’ll be here for the tournament. There’s also a need for door prizes for the pre-tournament banquet July 19.
In addition, Green, who said she’s working with Comcast to try to get the games streamed live, is looking for volunteers in a number of areas, including families willing to be gracious hosts. “Last year we had host families for each of the teams and that really helped,” she said. “They just kind of took them under their wings. I’d like to do that again. The families won’t have to put up anyone in their house. They’ll just be a contact person for the teams, come to the banquet and to the games and be a friendly familiar face to give them local information.”
While no numbers on how many people who attended last year’s tournament spent money locally were readily available, Richmond Hill Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Executive Director Chris Shepherd said one overnight visitor typically spends about $300 locally.
And Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler, who along with County Commissioner Carter Infinger threw out the first pitch at the opening ceremony last year, said the city needs more events of this kind.
“I think it’s fantastic we’re having this in our area,” he said. “It’s great for the community.”
While last year’s tournament was widely praised, some criticized the use of only two umpires per field. There will be three this year, and they’ll come from around the state.
Green said she is looking for sponsors to help house and feed the umpires, who will come from around Georgia’s 10 Little League districts and work for free.
Teams from Georgia have advanced to the Little League World Series as recently as 2011 and have won it all three times — Warner Robins won it in 2007, Columbus Northern in 2006 and Marietta in 1983.
Last year, Columbus Northern won the 10-11-year-old title at the tournament in Richmond Hill, beating Warner Robins American 7-1 in the championship game.
Richmond Hill-based Coastal Little League also had a team in the tournament last season and could return this year.