Little League Honors Volunteers at Awards Breakfast
From a 10-year-old catcher who showed good sportsmanship, to a mom who survived cancer and got behind the plate to call balls and strikes, Little League Baseball honored volunteers Thursday morning at the Genetti Hotel who help make the international program a success.
“None of this could happen without you,” Steven D. Keener, President and Chief Executive Officer, told a room full of district administrators, guests and families from across the country.
The awards recognition breakfast, with ESPN broadcaster Gary Thorne serving as master of ceremonies, honored those who show commitment to the organization’s goals and values.
Judy Watts, of the Laguna Hills Little League in California, was named Mom of the Year. Her son, Cameron, 12, wrote in his nomination for his mother that she “was always there for us” even while enduring breast cancer treatment.
“She always said she would dance at my wedding,” Cameron wrote of his mom, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. Doctors declared Watts cancer-free in February.
Watts serves on the Laguna Hills Little League Board of Directors and as director of umpire development. She also has served as tee ball commissioner and a player agent.
She decided to go behind the plate as an umpire in 2006 and received the Ironman Award from California’s District 55 for calling balls and strikes at 44 games in 2009.
The Little League Awards program honored its annual winners at the Awards Breakfast held Thursday at the Genetti Ballroom in Williamsport. From left are: Stephen Keener, President and Chief Executive Officer of Little League Baseball and Softball; Gary Thorne, ESPN personality and Master of Ceremonies; Mike Muranaka, Challenger Award winner; Cameron Watts, son of Mom of the Year, Judy Watts; Braeden Swilley, Good Sport of the Year; Linda Ruff, Howard and Gail Paster Urban Initiative Volunteer of the Year; Greg Hodges, Volunteer of the Year; and Dennis Lewin, Chairman of the Little League International Board of Directors. Each of the Award Program recipients also were recognized prior to the start of Thursday's International Semifinal at Howard J. Lamade Stadium.
It took Braeden Swilley, 10, of East Marietta, Ga., a bat to the facemask as he was catching to earn him the Good Sport of the Year Award.
An opposing player accidentally tossed his bat back toward Swilley after a hit. After being dazed by the contact, he went to the other player’s dugout, shook hands and told him he wasn’t hurt and knew it was an accident.
His father, Smith Swilley, described his son as a “quiet leader” who is mature beyond his years.
Braeden thanked his coaches, parents and God upon receiving the award.
A Texas man with more than 32 years of service to Little League was named Volunteer of the Year. Greg Hodges, of Needville, Texas, is treasurer of the Little League there.
During his time with the league, Hodges has been a coach and umpire. He was selected to umpire the 2010 Junior League Softball World Series in Kirkland, Wash.
“I’m just from a small town in Texas,” a humble Hodges told the audience. “I was asked what I did to win the award. I said, “I don’t know. I just do what they ask me to do.”
Mike Muranaka, Challenger Division coordinator for California’s District 57, was named the recipient of this year’s Challenger Award.
He first became involved with the Challenger Division in 1992 and soon was the coordinator for the San Ramon, Calif., league. Muranaka was recognized for the evolvement of the Western Region Challenger Jamboree, which has been hosted in his district for the past eight years. More than 1,200 people and 26 teams participated at the event’s barbecue this year.
Little League’s Challenger Division began in 1989 and gives children ages 4 to 18 with physical and developmental challenges a chance to play regardless of ability. More than 2,000 teams and 30,000 players now participate in the division.
For Linda Ruff, of the South Baltimore Little League in Maryland, the 260 children in the league are considered to be her “extended” grandchildren.
Ruff was selected as the Howard and Gail Paster Little League Urban Initiative Volunteer of the Year. She has been involved with Little League since 1980 when her daughter became a player. Since then, she has served as the league’s vice president of softball, a member of the board of directors and a player agent.
The award recognizes those who provide a positive experience for children and adults in a metropolitan league.
Also a cancer survivor, Ruff credited Little League with a purpose and direction to beating non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “If it hadn’t been for Little League, I’m not sure I would have made it,” she said.