A cheering crowd of more than 100 people gathered in the Poland High School parking lot early Thursday evening to welcome home a group of very special pre-teen girls.
The boisterous throng was on hand to salute the 12 members of the Poland Community Little League softball team who had just finished a fantastic run in the Little League Softball World Series in Portland, Ore. Poland’s “Dynamic Dozen” placed fourth in the worldwide event becoming the first team from the Youngstown area to advance that far in a Little League World Series in over 30 years.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said head coach Chuck Masluk after getting a chance to let everything settle in. “These girls had a great year. They worked hard and they deserved everything that happened to them.”
The local 11- and 12-year-olds started their great year by defeating Elyria 6-1 back in July to win the Ohio Little League Softball tournament. Poland then represented the Central Region in the World Series after capturing the Regional Championship in Carthage, Mo., the first week of August. Once in the World Series the team faced off against nine other teams representing the United States, Canada, the country of Poland, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Despite losing 1-0 to defending World Series champion Warner Robbins, Ga., to deny themselves a chance at the finals and also losing in the third-place game, the girls on the team used words like incredible, exciting and overwhelmed to describe their experience out west. From the time the kids arrived in Portland they were treated like royalty even though there were plenty of other teams in the Series as well. All the games were played in a Major League-type stadium, limos were provided to transport the teams, gifts were bestowed by host families, all meals were cooked and served to the teams and the girls got to keep their game uniforms. For Masluk, it was like being part of the big time.
“(The people in Portland) took care of the kids very well,” he said. “The entire event was handled greatly.”
Not only did the host community pay special attention to the girls, but everyone from Poland did a bunch to make sure these special youngsters had the time of their lives.
“The (local) community support was phenomenal,” Masluk bragged. “There was also a great outpouring of financial support from members of our community and we give them our overall thanks.”
That financial backing was needed to send the girls to Missouri to play in that Central Region Regional Tournament. Winning the Regional and advancing to Portland was a net gain that any of the investors could be happy with.
Masluk also gave credit to UCLA head softball coach Sue Enquist. Enquist spoke to the Poland team at the World Series and her words not only struck a chord in the kids, but it hit home with the coach as well.
“(Coach Enquist) was a great help to the kids and me,” Masluk said honestly. “She helped put everything in perspective. She said that no matter how big the game was, it’s still just softball. That allowed us to relax every game.”
Unfortunately, this season may have been a once-in-a –great-while experience for the Poland Little Leaguers. There were only two 11-year-olds on the team meaning there will be great turnover next summer. The rest of the squad is advancing to “older aged” leagues. Even coach Masluk is moving on to coach his 10-year-old daughter’s softball squad.
Of course, those changes are in the future and can all be worried about in nine months or so. For now, the entire Poland community can bask in the glory of a group of 12 young girls who for a short time this summer gave everyone great reason to celebrate.
Fact BoxSee all the photos from the girls' return, buy prints and more in our CU Photo Gallery at: http://cu.towncrieronline.com/galleries/index.php?id=313356