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Little League Challenger Teams from Maryland, West Virginia Play Tee Ball at White House

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (July 31, 2006) – The 15th “Tee Ball on the South Lawn” game was played Sunday at the White House, and sitting in the stands along side President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush was the President’s baseball idol, Hall of Famer Willie Mays.

A West Virginia batter watches his hit fly off the tee into the infield, along with coaches and fans.

In keeping with the tradition of Tee Ball on the South Lawn games, no score was kept in the Little League Challenger Division match-up between the Braves of Shady Spring (W.Va.) Little League and the Thurmont (Md.) Little League. Every player on both teams played on defense and bat once in the one-inning game that preceded a picnic on the South Lawn for players and families. A baseball autographed by President Bush was presented – by the president himself – to each player, manager, and coach.

Little League’s Challenger Division is for mentally and physically disabled children, ages 5-18. It is Little League’s fastest-growing division, with more than 28,000 players in the U.S. and several other countries.

The game was the latest played on the South Lawn of the White House since May 6, 2001, when President Bush began the initiative as a way to boost interest in baseball among children and parents. Little League Baseball and Softball, the largest youth sports program in the world, has seen registration numbers increase so far this year by more than 26,000 players. Final numbers for the year will not be available until August.

President Bush, the first former Little Leaguer to be elected to the nation’s highest office, played Little League Baseball at Central Little League in Midland, Texas, in the mid-1950s. He was on the Cubs, and was a catcher. In 2001, President Bush was enshrined in the Little League Museum Hall of Excellence when he visited the Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

Mr. Mays was the honorary commissioner for the game. His storied 22-year career in Major League Baseball ended with 660 home runs – fourth in all of Major League history. He was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 1979. After the game, Mr. Mays autographed baseballs for all the children in attendance.

The honorary base coaches for the game were former Major League pitcher Al Leiter, and former Major League catcher Dan Wilson. Mr. Leiter has worked with several charities throughout his career, and Mr. Wilson (who played in the Little League Baseball World Series for his Barrington, Ill., team in 1981) and his wife have four adopted children, and work to raise funds to help orphaned children find adoptive parents.

This was the second game of 2006, and the sixth to feature teams from the Challenger Division. For more information on Tee Ball on the South Lawn, visit http://www.littleleague.org/media/teeballselection.asp.

Little League Baseball and Softball is the world’s largest youth sports organization, with nearly 2.7 million children participating in every U.S. state and dozens of other countries on six continents. Little League is the only youth sports organization to be chartered by the U.S. Congress.

U.S. President George W. Bush speaks to the teams and families, with Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays and Little League mascot Dugout looking on. Mr. Mays, who was a young George W. Bush’s favorite player, was the honorary commissioner for the game. Honorary third base coach and former Major League catcher Dan Wilson gives some tips to a player from Maryland. Mr. Wilson played in the Little League Baseball World Series in 1981.
A player from Maryland drives the ball off the tee. A Maryland player shows off his gift from President Bush.
West Virginia runners are encouraged on the bases by the buddies. Honorary first base coach Al Leiter, a former Major League pitcher, watches the action.
President Bush gives an autographed baseball to a West Virginia player A coach for the Maryland team, along with hundreds of onlookers, watches a Marine helicopter land on the South Lawn. A few minutes later, when the helicopter was boarded by President Bush, it was designated as Marine One.