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Four Stars: Experience, Opportunity Make Fourth Annual Urban Initiative Jamboree Resounding Success

“Click here for photos and more info from the 2007 Jamboree!”

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (May 29, 2007) – Traveling from points throughout the Unites States, the 14 teams that participated in the fourth annual Little League Urban Initiative Jamboree in Williamsport over Memorial Day Weekend played plenty of baseball, but they also received an education in what it means to have the chance to get on the field and play ball.

“I enjoyed every moment of the Jamboree,” Keith George, manager of the Belmont Heights Little League team from Tampa, Fla., said. “I am a straight-up city guy and
I’m amazed how beautiful it is around here.

“The Urban Initiative and this Jamboree give the kids the motivation to keep playing baseball,” Mr. George said. “We’re trying to get more children participating at older divisions, and we have a lot of good parents to help with that, but they can only go so far. We need these kids to keep playing and come back to be volunteers.”

Through the generosity of The Torii Hunter Project and Major League Baseball, these regular season teams (10 Major Division teams; four Junior Division teams) from urban communities and neighborhoods made the memorable trip to the home of Little League Baseball and Softball.

Profiles of the Jamboree teams can be found here: http://www.littleleague.org/jamboree/2007/index.asp

“When we were told we were going to Williamsport, my first thought was, ‘I’m going to hit a home run,’” Tim Puopolo, a 15-year-old catcher who plays in the Brockton (Mass.) Southwest Little League’s Junior Division, said. “It was a cool thing coming here. When I get home, I’m going to tell my friends that I hit my first home run and went 7-for-8.”

Recognizing the merits of the Urban Initiative and the unique opportunity afforded by the Jamboree, Torii Hunter, the All-Star outfielder for the Minnesota Twins, and several fellow Major League Baseball players, contributed funds to support the 2007 Jamboree through The Torii Hunter Project, which is designed to encourage more African-American children to play baseball. For years, the Little League Urban Initiative – Little League’s endeavor to bring the benefits of the program to families in urban areas – has provided young people a chance to play baseball where there was once little opportunity.

The influence of the Jamboree spanned the generations for Ronald Hernandez, Jr., of the OFA Little League from Houston, Texas. Accompanied by his parents Ronald and Maria Hernandez, Ronald, Jr., learned that his grandfather, Raul Losano, played in the 1962 Little League World Series for Monterrey, Mexico.

“My Grandpa came here and played,” Ronald, Jr. said. “I didn’t know that before coming here, but once I got here he told me on the phone he was the best player on the team.”

Mr. Losano was a pitcher and catcher for the team from Monterrey that finished third behind World Series champion Moreland (Calif.) Little League.

Ronald, Sr., a volunteer in OFA Little League, said the weekend’s experience was exciting for his family.

“I think it’s every parent’s dream to have your own child play here,” Mr. Hernandez said. “When my father-in-law found out we were coming to Williamsport, he said he’d told us a lot of history about his Little League days, but we didn’t pay attention. When we got here he started telling us about things we thought we didn’t know about. Then he reminded us about all of those old stories.”

Ronald, Jr., said the best part of the weekend was playing the games and having fun.

“I want to come back and play in the World Series,” Ronald, Jr., said. “When I get home I will tell my friends to do their best and they can come here. This has been fun for me.”

Participating in the Jamboree were Little League teams from the following cities: Albuquerque, N.M. (Thunderbird Little League); Tampa, Fla. (Belmont Heights Little League and North Seminole Little League); Pittsburgh, Pa. (North Braddock Little League); Sacramento, Calif. (Oak Park Little League); Chicago (Broadview Youth Little League); Portland, Ore. (Peninsula Little League); Houston, Texas (OFA Little League); Asbury Park, N.J. (Asbury Park Little League); Bridgeport, Conn. (Park City Little League); Akron, Ohio (West Akron Little League); Kansas City, Mo. (Kansas City East Little League), Brockton, Mass. (Brockton South West Little League); and Ft. Wayne, Ind. (District 10 Southeast Little League). One volunteer umpire from each league also participated.

“When these kids get back, they’re going to be talking about coming to the Jamboree and that will help our league,” Chalise Chancey, president of North Braddock Little League from Pittsburgh, Pa., said. “We’re from a football area, and that is why I feel the Urban Initiative helped out a lot. Through the Urban Initiative we received playing equipment and our volunteers emphasized coming out to play ball and having a good time.

“With our league coming to Williamsport, I think other kids will want to be a part of our league, hoping that one day they can make a trip like this too,” Mrs. Chancey, a native of Williamsport, said. “I also expect this trip, the experience and the exposure will bring more volunteers to our league.”

Nearly 250 children from Urban Initiative Little Leagues arrived at Little League International. Accompanying the teams were their managers and coaches, along with other local league officials and family members.

On Saturday and Sunday, the teams played games at Howard J. Lamade and Little League Volunteer Stadiums, the same fields that host the annual Little League Baseball World Series games, as well as three other fields (one Little League-size; two standard-size) on the Little League International complex. Jamboree games also were played at Carl Stotz Memorial Field, near the site of the first Little League games in 1939, and home to Original League. Sunday morning, the teams participated in a Pitch, Hit & Run competition supported by Major League Baseball.

Also on Sunday the players had the chance to meet former Major League Baseball player and manager Dusty Baker. Mr. Baker, an ESPN baseball analyst who will be part of the network’s 2007 Little League Baseball World Series coverage, watched several Jamboree games throughout the day and was the guest speaker that evening at the Jamboree’s closing ceremonies.

“I spoke with Torii Hunter and that is when I really got interested,” Mr. Baker, a former Little Leaguer from Riverside, Calif., said. “I played Little League and my dad was my Little League coach. My dad influenced me to play baseball, and what Torii is doing might influence these kids (at the Jamboree).

“Little League is a great program, and I always wanted to come to the Little League World Series,” Mr. Baker. “If you present the opportunity to play, the kids will fall in love with this game.”

In 2004, the inaugural Little League Urban Initiative Jamboree welcomed eight leagues from the Eastern United States. In the past two years, 10 regular-season teams from leagues aided, or chartered through, the Urban Initiative traveled to Little League International from various points throughout the country.

“Community is the key because Little League is a volunteer-based organization,” David James, director of the Urban Initiative, said. “There are more than enough kids in these communities, but the challenge is getting volunteers out to be managers, coaches, umpires, etc.

“We are becoming successful with what we do, and the message is getting out through events like the Jamboree,” Mr. James said. “With the support of Torii, Dusty and the other Major League players, people are getting an understanding of what we are trying to do.”

Each of the Jamboree teams were housed for three nights, and provided meals, in the Dr. Creighton J. Hale International Grove, where Little League Baseball World Series teams live for two weeks each August.

The Little League Urban Initiative has seen success in more than 85 U.S. cities since it began in 2000. In the past year, Lemon Grove Little League and Encanto Little League near San Diego; Neartown Little League in Houston; Culver Marina Little League in Los Angeles; and South Side Little League in Chicago were among several leagues that received funding and assistance through the Little League Urban Initiative. Currently, more than 200 local Little Leagues in the U.S. are part of the Urban Initiative. Through 2006, the program stimulated the addition of 2,779 teams and 33,000 players.

The Major Leaguers who have made financial contributions to the Torii Hunter Project, are Mr. Hunter’s teammates Rondell White and Shannon Stewart, along with Derrek Lee and Jacque Jones of the Chicago Cubs, the Baltimore Orioles’ LaTroy Hawkins, Ken Griffey, Jr., of the Cincinnati Reds, the Florida Marlins’ Dontrelle Willis, Joey Gathright of the Kansas City Royals, and former Little League Baseball World Series player and current Detroit Tiger, Gary Sheffield.