Source: South Williamsport, Pa.
Date/Time: Saturday, August 25, 10:30 ET
Little League International hosted the Challenger Division game on Saturday at Volunteer Stadium with the Southwest Forsyth Little League team from Clemmons, N.C., and the Rhode Island District 2 Challenger Little League from Portsmouth, R.I.
It was a first time visit to South Williamsport, Pa., for most of the players, but it wasn’t a first time visit for everyone.
Southwest Forsyth manager Chuck DeLuca was here in 2002 as the coach for the Southeast regional champs from Clemmons N.C. Now he’s back, but with the Challenger Division.
“Being back on the field is surreal,” DeLuca said. “You never expect to be back on this field.”
Deluca has been coaching Little League for 18 years and started coaching the Challenger Division when it started back in 2006. After coaching the Major and Challenger divisions, he enjoys both and would do it again tomorrow.
“Both are a journey,” DeLuca said. “There are similar in so many ways, but polar opposites in others.”
DeLuca explains that in the Challenger Division, it’s more about playing the game and having fun than keeping score or competing. It’s more of a community sport and really brings the community together whereas Little League, while it is still about having fun, is also about keeping score, learning the game and competing.
There is one thing that DeLuca enjoys the most about coaching the Challenger Division.
“The best part is the smiles. Not only from the kids, but from the appreciation from the parents,” DeLuca said.
DeLuca had the best of both worlds on this visit to South Williamsport. Some of the players from the 2002 team were able to come with him.
“It’s an honor to be here with the Challenger Division, but a greater honor to be here with the players from the 2002 Southeast regional championship team,” DeLuca said.
Most of the team from 2002 helps out with the Challenger team and has since it started. Some of the former players who came include Michael Deluca, Alex Robertson, David Morgan, Christopher Sanders, Sammy Lucas, Robbie Scott and Chad Gentry.
“From the time they were in Little League they’ve always been a tight nit group,” DeLuca said.
All of them enjoy helping out with the Challenger Division.
“It’s like being a coach, but not,” Morgan said. “It’s different, but fun. It’s a different kind of fun.”
This is the first time that players from the 2002 team have been back at the complex since they were here a decade ago. It was interesting for them to see what has changed and what hasn’t.
“It’s a little hazy from the first time, but when I was walking underneath the stadium I knew it was game time,” Morgan said.
Morgan explained how it’s really boomed since he was here the last time. He remembers the look of the museum the most because that’s what you first saw when you got off the buses. However, Gentry remembers something else.
“Just looking down at the field from the museum gave me goose bumps,” Gentry said.
He remembers looking down at the field when he was here in 2002 and when he looked at it again on Saturday, all of the memories flashed back.
When the team was here before, they didn’t get to enjoy the Little League World Series as much as they wanted to. Now that they’re back, they can.
“Now that we’re here for a second time we can sit back and appreciate it,” Gentry said.
Everyone from the 2002 team has been enjoying their time here and is glad they got to come back for a second time.
“The team from 2002, the Challenger team and their families will never forget these moments,” DeLuca said. “They will forever have a bond with these kids around them.”