LEHIGH ACRES – Wednesday, June 22 was an evening that LaBelle natives would not soon forget. Local fans packed the stands of the baseball park for the 8–10-year-old district championship game.
The game was 40 minutes from home, but that didn't stop the crowd. Parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, and excited community members flooded the field's fence line in a sea of red. They were there to root for their hometown boys.
The LaBelle All-Stars stood firm and played hard and, in the end, were crowned District 18 Champions, beating their opponent 8-4.
The All-Star team is the group of the very best players from the major and minor divisions of Little League. The kids played their hearts out all season, and a lucky few received a coveted spot on the All-Star team as a reward.
Coaches Lori Perkins, Felix Hernandez, Blake Broom, and Alton Burton volunteered their time during the regular season. Sometimes coaching multiple teams, umpiring, and anything else needed, including watching their kids play. Then they stepped up and took on the next challenge, coaching the All-Star team.
Being a member of the All-Stars team is no small undertaking. What has been a relaxing summer vacation for most kids has been anything but for this group of determined athletes. The boys practiced almost every day for the three weeks before the championship game. They played in triple-digit heat indexes in the games leading up to the championship.
"This team is a lot of fun to coach, and they've worked so hard to get better – each one of them!" Coach Lori Langford boasted.
"I hope the lesson they are learning is that when you want something, you stay committed, keep a good attitude and work hard for it!" Perkins continued.
The crowd was on fire when the game ended, and the LaBelle All-Stars had secured the title. The boys ran to each other, jumping, hugging, and high-fiving. The culmination of their hard work and dedication had paid off.
April Brooks, the mother of All-Star player Maison Golemme shared a photo of her son with teammates Noah Gunn and Hayden Platt, showing much younger faces but the same bright-eyed smiles. "This one makes me cry! From Rookies to Majors," she said. "Been friends since T-Ball at three years old."
When asked about the best plays of the night and the boy's highlights, Brooks wanted to make it clear that while the boys did a great job, great coaching had gotten them ready to take on this level of competition.
"They pushed the boys to be their very best, never giving up on them," she said about the All-Star coaches. "If it wasn't for their love and support, the boys wouldn't have developed as much as they have in such a short period of time.
Lisa Hansen, grandmother of Hayden Platt echoed Brooks sentiments. “The coaches were dedicated to making this the best team they could. They believed in these boys, and it showed at every practice and game” she said. “Always praising them when they did good and building them up when they made a mistake.”
It's not quite time for the boys to slack off just yet as the team continues to fight their way up the ranks. More practices are on the agenda as the LaBelle All-Stars get ready to take on Champions from Districts 9 & 16 for the Regional Title. Games will take place in Sarasota July 1-3.