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One Little League Helps Another Rebuild After Tornado

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (Jan. 25, 2005) – When Utica Little League of North Utica, Ill., opens the 2005 season in May, its players will play under a new light system on a field with new fencing and storage buildings.

League President Doug Porter says the league, which serves a town of just 977 residents, hadn’t planned on doing the infrastructure upgrade, but a deadly tornado in 2004 made it necessary and the kind heart of another Illinois Little League made it possible.

Mr. Porter says that on April 20, 2004, the league was preparing to start its “early bird” tournament when the town’s warning system signaled an approaching tornado. Between 50 and 75 players and family members were at the park, but all made it to safety before the tornado ripped through town a half hour later. When the storm passed, eight people had died in a local restaurant and nearly the entire Utica Little League complex was destroyed.

“The only thing left was the concession stand and a small storage shed,” Mr. Porter said. “I actually had a piece of one of the storage buildings stuck in the side of my house two blocks away,”

In all, the park suffered nearly $225,000 in damage, $75,000 of which was suffered by the Little League.

Left with no field, the league soldiered on, borrowing field space graciously offered by nearby LaSalle and Oglesby Little Leagues to complete the 2004 season, and looking for ways to rebuild the complex.

Because of the storm’s devastation, news of it spread throughout Illinois. Ninety miles away at the Naperville Little Leagues, President Dick Strang thought there was something his league could do to help.

“The tornado was big news around here,” said Mr. Strang, who leads five Little League charters in Naperville. “Everyone kind of knows where Utica is. Everybody’s been through there.

“I called our DA and we contacted the DA down there to see if there was something we could do. We brought it up at the board meeting and figured we could do something positive about this.”

Right off the bat, the Naperville Little Leagues’ board voted to donate $5,000 to the reconstruction efforts. It also took on a small fund-raising campaign to help out even more. Finally, it invited some teams from Utica to play games on its fields.

“In between the 9-10 year old game and 11-12 year old game, they presented us with a check for $6,000,” Mr. Porter said.

The traditional can collection at the field that day raised an additional $1,500, Mr. Strang said, and that money also was presented to Utica Little League.

The donation might have gone unnoticed everywhere but North Utica, Ill., if not for the Utica Little League president’s drive to find recognition for his league’s new friends. Mr. Strang, however, insists, just doing a good deed for another Little League is reward enough.

“We didn’t blow our own horns over it,” Mr. Strang said. “The kids understood about what had happened and they made some new friends. We have 23 ball fields and (other resources). It was an opportunity to do something nice for somebody and we did it. That’s all.”

Note: Utica Little League has been a chartered Little League program since 1983. The District Administrator is Jim McVey (District 20). The first of the Naperville Little Leagues have been chartered with Little League since 1952. The District Administrator is Linda Sanfilippo (District 11).

Last year’s tornado that hit Utica Little League in North Utica, Ill., did extensive damage.