Tag Archives: Westport Little League

Youth Sports Leagues Team Up To Win

Over 6,000 Westport kids play sports. Many do more than one. And — as every parent knows — many sports are now played in more than one season.

It’s a grand slam of opportunities — and a grand problem for kids (multiple demands), parents (conflicting schedules) and administrators (not a lot of fields).

Westport’s Parks & Rec Department is trying to bring some order to the pileup.

As de facto coordinator of youth sports in town — it oversees most facilities, and runs several programs itself — Parks & Rec has organized a Westport Youth Sports Council.

Members include every major organization in town: Little League baseball and softball; PAL (lacrosse, football, track, wrestling, basketball, cheerleading); the Westport Soccer Association, and Westport Field Hockey. They meet several times a year.

The goal, says Parks & Rec program manager and Council director Karen Puskas, is for every group to be “on the same page.” In the same ballpark, if you will.

Thousands of Westport youngsters play on hundreds of teams, in a wide variety of sports.

Soon after the holidays, they’ll roll out a new website. It will offer a master schedule; links to every program; a code of conduct; concussion awareness, and information for current residents, as well as anyone with sports-loving kids considering a move to Westport.

This spring, the council plans an open house. Every organization can showcase its program.

Also in the works: informational sessions for parents about college athletics, and townwide forums on topics like specialization and burnout.

“It’s a work in progress,” Puskas admits. “We’re all busy, and everyone is a volunteer. It will only be successful if everyone works together.”

But, she notes, 2 years ago Westport won a National Alliance for Youth Sports award for its comprehensive programs. This council builds on that cooperation.

Westport’s sports organizations are filled with “great people,” Puskas says. “For everyone, it’s all about the kids.”

(If your browser does not connect you directly to YouTube, click here.)

 

Westport To Williamsport: The Back Story

For 30 years, Rob Stone has been a sports legend in Westport.

In 1983, his shot from midfield soared over the Ridgefield soccer goalkeeper’s head. There were just 7 minutes remaining in Staples’ state championship match. Rob’s goal — the only one of his varsity career — gave the Wreckers their 2nd straight state championship.

Now Rob’s son Matt has won a state title too. But he’s gone his dad one better.

Matt is a New England champion. He’s a catcher on the Westport Little League all-star team. Following Saturday’s nail-biting 1-0 win over Lincoln, Rhode Island, Matt and his teammates are headed to Williamsport, Pennsylvania. On Thursday (August 15, 7 p.m., ESPN2), they face South Nashville, Tennessee in game 1 of their double-elimination path to an international title.

That’s a goal Matt’s dad — or, until a couple of weeks ago, probably no one in Westport — ever dreamed of.

Westport Little League all-stars (from left) Max Popkin, Alex Reiner, Matt Stone and Drew Rogers  look relaxed and happy.

Westport Little League all-stars (from left) Max Popkin, Alex Reiner, Matt Stone and Drew Rogers look relaxed and happy.

The story began 2 years ago, when former Division I college pitcher Tim Rogers organized a 10-and-under AAU travel team, the Connecticut Seals. 

The boys quickly began winning. They also won as a Little League District team, which included some (but not all) of the Seals.

A crushing Little League loss came in the District 2 finals. Leading with 2 outs in the bottom of the 6th (and final) inning, they lost on an error on a routine play. Fairfield — the team that pulled out that win — went on to win the state championship.

The loss was “the best thing that could have happened” to the boys, Rob says. He knew it meant something when his son changed his phone’s password to “LLWS2013.”

It stood for “Little League World Series 2013,” Matt told his father. “That’s what we all want.”

Pitcher Harry Azadian sent this photo to his teammates. It shows the Little League stadium in Williamsport -- Westport's goal for the past year.

Pitcher Harry Azadian sent this photo to his teammates. It shows the Little League stadium in Williamsport — Westport’s goal for the past year.

The boys played all fall. During the winter they worked out at an indoor facility, with batting, pitching and fielding instructors.

When the Little League all-star season began this spring, Westport was virtually unchallenged. They went 7-0, outscoring their foes 63-7. Beating Fairfield National twice marked another big step.

In the 1st game of the sectional tournament, they avenged last year’s loss to a Bristol, Connecticut-area team. They faced the same pitcher who beat them previously — but exploded for an 8-0, no-hit victory.

They roared through the sectional and state championships — still undefeated — and headed to the New England tournament in Bristol.

(The final pitch of the New England championship, as shown on ESPN. If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.)

The boys and coaches stayed in a dorm with other teams. Playing 6 games in 10 days, they outscored the opposition 43-8. Their 2 dominant pitchers and stellar defensive work have been as impressive as their prowess at the plate.

Just as important is their spirit. The boys teammates are “all best friends,” Rob says. “They have a great time together — very similar to the feeling of our soccer team 30 years ago. They have a great sense of humor, and are always joking with each other. They’re very cohesive, on and off the field.”

Every single player, Rob says, made “a big-time contribution” during their state and regional championship runs. And “there is unconditional support among the players. When mistakes happen, they own it as a team and pick each other up.”

Rob praises Tim as “an exceptional coach. He is really good with the kids. He knows how to focus them individually and collectively, and has great judgment. All the boys respect him, and have tremendous confidence in him and his decisions.”

That’s true “even when the decision might be negative for the player, like moving him down in the batting order or not starting him.”

Plenty of teams have plenty of talent. This Westport Little League all-star team has chemistry and passion too.

It’s taken them far.

But no matter how much farther they go, they’ve already won 2 things that are more important than any championship:

Confidence in themselves and each other.

And the hearts of everyone in their home town.

Parents and friends cheer the Westport Little League all-stars' bus.

Parents and friends cheer the Westport Little League all-stars’ bus.

Congratulations To Westport Little League All-Stars!

A gutsy 1-0, 1-hit performance over Rhode Island gave Westport its 1st New England Little League championship tonight.

It was tense. It was exceptionally well-played. It was a classic.

Next stop: Williamsport!

David Lloyd’s Subtle Shout-Out To Westport Little League

As host of ESPN’s 1-3 p.m. weekday Sportscenter, David Lloyd can’t play favorites.

But that didn’t stop the Staples grad from adding this little bit of support on his Twitter profile to the Westport Little League team that vies for the New England championship starting Friday:

David Lloyd

And where does the tournament take place?

Bristol, Connecticut — ESPN’s back yard.

David is on vacation this week. No word on whether he took the time off to cheer on his favorite hometown team.

Westport Boys Win Little League State Title; Girls To Follow On Tuesday?

Westport’s 12-year-old Little League all-stars are one step closer to Williamsport.

The boys captured their town’s 1st-ever state championship today, in Southington. Westport beat Coginchaug 9-1, sweeping the best-of-3 series. Yesterday, they won 8-2.

Westport Little LeagueThe winners represent Connecticut at the New England regional tournament. It’s set for Bristol — home of ESPN — starting this Friday (August 2).

The winner of that tournament heads to the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, Westport’s 10-11 softball girls play in the state tournament, Tuesday in Newington. They need 1 more victory in 2 games to add a 2nd state championship to the Westport Little League trophy case.

Good luck to both teams!

Jack Cody’s Little League Challenge

Westport sponsors the 3rd largest Little League program in the world.

But until this year, it did not have a Challenger Division.

Starting soon, though, boys and girls ages 5-18 with physical or mental challenges will play baseball, just like hundreds of other Westport kids.

And they’ll do so thanks in large part to the work of a Staples High School junior.

Jack Cody stands near the Staples baseball diamond.

Jack Cody stands near the Staples baseball diamond.

Jack Cody is a former Little Leaguer and Staples baseball athlete. For the past 3 years he’s helped coach a Little League team. He’s also a member of Kool To Be Kind, the high school mentorship and anti-bullying program.

When Jack realized that Westport Little League did not provide opportunities for children with disabilities, he vowed to make it happen.

He researched Challenger programs in towns like Fairfield and Ridgefield. He got help from Norwalk; emailed Westport Little League officials; enlisted his mother Beth as commissioner, and made a formal proposal to the board. They loved Jack’s idea — and his enthusiasm.

Then he began recruiting players and “buddies.” They assist Challenger players on the field, but encourage them to bat and make plays themselves whenever possible.

Little League ChallengerTeams will be organized by ability, rather than age. Games are a couple of innings long. Everyone bats each inning.

There is no fee. Each player receives a personalized jersey and cap. The season begins April 27 and ends June 22. Games are on weekends, in Westport and nearby towns.

“It’s really important that every kid gets a chance to play baseball,” Jack says of his favorite sport. “I’m just really glad I can help make this possible.”

PS: Baseball is not all Jack does well. He and fellow Stapleite Warren Schorr have been selected to represent the school this summer, at a summit of young leaders in Singapore.

(Parents can register players for the Challenger program by clicking here. For more information, or to volunteer as a buddy, email westportball@aol.com.)

Bill Hodgkinson’s Marauders

In May 1960, the  Saturday Evening Post published this photo:

Marauders at  Gault Field

It shows the Marauders — “a hustling club” — at the Gault Little League Field on Imperial Avenue. In the background — across the river — was Bedford Junior High School (now Saugatuck El). A short distance away — on the left — is the original Staples High School. It was torn down 7 years later.

The magazine identified the Marauders as (from left) Johnny Bissell, Bruce Corrigan, Geoff Hodgkinson, manager Bill Hodgkinson, Don Carroll, Art Hunter, Larry Hilliard, Brian Hitt, Carl Swanson and Tommy McCarthy.

Bill Hodgkinson died last month. He was 97.

bill Hodgkinson

bill Hodgkinson

A freelance graphic designer and 30-year Westport resident, he created labels, logos, packaging, ads and pamphlets for Sinclair Oil, GE, Union Carbide, Pepperidge Farm, Arnold Bakery and RC Bigelow. His Seagram’s VO whiskey label is still used today.

Just as importantly — to him, and many others — Bill managed the Marauders from 1955 to 1970. He was known as a fair, hard-working coach. He also served actively in many positions on the Westport Little League board.

What makes this “06880”-worthy — besides remembering a very talented and civic-minded Westporter — is that for the past few years, his grandson John Videler has carried on the family tradition of coaching the Marauders.

And Bill’s great-grandson, Case Videler, is on the team.

The next time someone says that, with all these newcomers and changes, Westport is no longer the small town it once was — well, just take ’em out to Bill’s old ballgame.

Westport’s In The Little League World Series. Sort Of.

As Westporters follow Fairfield’s run through the Little League World Series, we can take some pride — a teeny, tiny bit — in reflected glory.

ESPN host Chris McKendry lives in Westport. She’s married to Eduardo Andrade, president of the Westport Library (and a Westport Little League coach). Their son Drew — a Little Leaguer — is entering 2nd grade.

Fairfield’s squad was trained by Westport resident Mike Porzio, owner of The Clubhouse in Fairfield. His son Michael is also a Little Leaguer (rising 3rd grader).

Okay, Westport’s not really in Williamsport. But some of us are close.

Judge Not…

The other night, an alert “06880” reader writes, his son played in a Little League game.

A wild pitch brushed him back. Then he was hit hard on his left side, under the arm.

He went down in severe pain, and could hardly breathe. The reader’s wife — a medical professional, normally dismissive of her kid’s injuries — was very concerned, because the injury was so close to internal organs.

She took him to the Stillson Road walk-in clinic in Fairfield, because they take X-rays. The clinic immediately sent the boy — by EMS, with Fairfield Fire Department escort — to Bridgeport Hospital‘s pediatric emergency room. Fortunately, he checked out fine.

Both the walk-in clinic and hospital experiences, the reader says, were “phenomenal.”

But that’s not why he emailed me.

The pitcher was the opposing coach’s son. When the injured boy’s father got home, he had plenty of voicemails. His son’s coach, teammates — even parents on the other team, and random others — were calling to see how the boy was, and if the family needed anything.

But one person had not called: the opponents’ coach.

However, the father adds: “I was too quick to judge.”

Youth sports teach many life lessons.

The next day, he sent an email. He wrote of his own concern for the young player’s well-being, and said how sorry and distraught his own son felt for hitting the boy with a pitch.

“We, of course, had focused only on our own kid, and how we felt,” the “06880” reader writes.

“We never thought how the other child and coach/father might be feeling.”

That, he continues, is why “youth sports are so great. They’re about life lessons, and perspectives, and redemption, and making quick judgments.”

And about life lessons — for kids and parents.

Play ball!

Why Westport Little Leaguers Used To Wear Headphones During Games

Following Friday’s “06880” story about the Westport Little League’s 60th anniversary, this photo made the email rounds of a certain group of former players:

It shows history from 1960:  the Marauders beat the Hornets, the 1st-ever American League victory in Westport’s World Series.

Carl Swanson is in the middle of the raucous celebration — his single won the game.

When the daughter of one of those former Little Leaguers — she’s a very good high school softball player — saw it, she asked, “Back then, why did you guys wear headphones?”

Patiently, her father explained that — unlike today, when protective headgear resembles football helmets, complete with cage — those were, in fact, batting helmets.

Her response:  “Lame.”

Imagine what she’d think if she saw a transistor radio.