In 2018, the Wheelersburg Little League Softball team made history as the first team from Ohio, girls or boys, to win a Little League World Series title. One year later, the impact of that historic run continues to be felt by Dusty Salyers, the team’s manager for both the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
Mr. Salyers has been volunteering with Wheelersburg Little League since his oldest daughter began playing 15 years ago. When Mr. Salyers was selected as manager for the second year in a row, he had a good feeling about the season that was to come.
“We made it to the final four for the Central Region the year before,” said Mr. Salyers. “A lot of the same girls from the past year came back, so I knew they were going to be pretty good.”
The Wheelersburg team was not just good, they were determined. At their first All-Star team practice, the team laid out their goals for the rest of their season.
“Our goals were to win the region and make it to the Little League World Series,” said Mr. Salyers. “They all believed it and I think that is a huge factor in us actually accomplishing those goals.”
At the Central Region tournament, the girls played with confidence, outscoring their opponents 38-0 leading up to the championship game. While that confidence gave way to some nerves entering the championship game against Iowa, the team managed to calm down after a few innings to take the game 3-1 and earn a trip to Portland.
“To see that last out, to know that you’re going to the Little League Softball World Series, there’s not a lot of words that can describe that other than just pure joy,” said Mr. Salyers. “They were all elated and crying tears of joy.”
The girls started their World Series run strong, winning their first two games against the teams from the Latin America and Asia-Pacific Regions. Despite the strong start, Wheelersburg lost their next two games to finish pool play as 2-2, but still secured a spot in the next round of the tournament.
“After the losses, we had a team meeting and talked about our goals for the summer,” said Mr. Salyers. “We were still going into the next round of play, so the emphasis was on refocusing the team going into that round.”
The Wheelersburg team did just that as they won their next two games to make it to the championship game where they were able to defeat Tunkhannock (Pa.) Little League, 3-0, and bring home the 2019 LLSWS title.
When the girls arrived back in Ohio after their victory, more than 50 emergency response vehicles from all throughout the community escorted them home from the airport as thousands of community members from Wheelersburg and the surrounding areas waiting to greet them back home.
“The girls, up until that point, did not realize how big of an accomplishment they had just achieved,” said Mr. Salyers. “It was just unbelievable.”
In the time since their victory, the girls have become local celebrities. At Wheelersburg Little League’s opening day for 2019, the girls were asked to Grand Marshall the parade and threw out the first pitch. Almost everywhere they go, people recognize them as the Little League Softball World Series Champions.
“We’ve been honored throughout the state,” said Mr. Salyers. “It’s an amazing experience and it’s something that the girls will appreciate more the older they get.”
The team’s accolades include being honored at a Cincinnati Reds game, as well as being invited to the state capitol building and to the opening night of a local Minor League Baseball team. The recognition that the girls received has also helped to promote the local leagues.
“I know the numbers from our own Little League jumped just this year in the 11-12 age group,” said Mr. Salyers. “There are girls playing this year that have never played in the past, just hoping to be a part of something like this.”
Winning a World Series is an unforgettable experience itself, and doing so as the first time from Ohio makes it that much better.
“This is experience is one that they can share with their children and grandchildren,” said Mr. Salyers. “The girls who were a part of the team will cherish these memories for the rest of their lives.”