As the Little League season draws to a close, local residents who came and supported the Illinois teams at the State Championship Series in Beardstown will always remember the excitement, great facilities and fan favorites. One such memory will likely be the Jackie Robinson West team who won the state title. Not only was the team a strong athletic contender, the boys, coaches, families and fans “felt the love” from local organizations, Little League local dignitaries and fans. In response to the local outpouring of support, the coaches of Jackie Robinson West shared their sentiments with the Cass County Star-Gazette:
Citizens of Beardstown and Cass County:
On behalf of the players, parents and volunteers of Jackie Robinson West Little League (JRW) we want to express our sincere thanks for the amazing outpouring of support and hospitality that was shown to our team and fans during the Little League State Tournament.
The manner in which you embraced our team and our fans was nothing short of remarkable.
JRW has traveled throughout Illinois and the Great Lakes area for decades and we have never been so well received and supported as we were during the tournament in Beardstown. It felt as if the people of Cass County adopted our team, as well as the fans that traveled from Chicago.
Our team faced adversity after losing our opening game to an excellent team from Tri Cities Little League. We knew an extended stay would be necessary if our boys were going to advance to the Great Lake Regional tournament.
In our second game of the tournament we faced elimination as we trailed the Section 1 champions from Tuscola Little League 11-6 late in the game. Our boys rallied back late in the game and ended up taking a win. That win was the first of ten consecutive victories for us, most of them with strong support from the people of Cass County.
As the tournament progressed our boys began to feel more relaxed and their play on the field improved. The kids noticed that despite being almost five hours from home, the first base bleachers and even the outfield were filled with people each game to cheer for them and support them. We can’t express how much that meant to our young players.
While in Beardstown there were so many acts of kindness and generosity shown to us.
The parishioners of Saint Alexis Catholic Church opened their doors after 11 p.m. to serve a hot meal to all of our players, parents and fans following one of the games. Mayor Patterson treated all of the kids to a meal at Dairy Queen following another game. Following yet another game District Administrator Tim Ward invited us all to lunch at his restaurant in Rushville. Local baseball fans brought gum, Gatorade and sunflowers seeds to our dugouts for the kids. Some of the local kids painted their chest with “JRW” and our player’s jersey numbers.
Following the championship game you filled our cars with groceries and gave us gas cards for the return drive home and the trip to Indianapolis. Cass County residents donated money through our website to support the boys and to help pay for the rental of vans for us to drive the team to Indianapolis. These are just a few examples of kindness that were extended to us during our stay at Beardstown, yet all of them will never be forgotten.
To our surprise the town’s support of our boys did not end at the tournament in Cass County. Imagine our surprise as we were in pregame warm-ups for our game versus Ohio in the Great Lakes Regional tournament when we noticed fans from Cass County had driven 250 miles for a noon game on a Friday to support the team.
As the boys were celebrating an exciting win in the bottom of the 9th inning versus Ohio we noticed young Dylan Whitis of Beardstown in our dugout helping to pack up the equipment just as he had done following our games during the state tournament. Dylan had been driven to the game by his grandparents, George and Willa McClure, one of our host families from Beardstown. Willa, George and Dylan were the first people we met as we arrived in Beardstown. They greeted us warmly and graciously along with our other hostess, Cathy Gibson.
After seeing Little League fans from Cass County travel 500 miles round trip to support our boys at the Great Lakes regional tournament, it struck us that we were not just representing JRW, or the south side of Chicago, but we were representing the entire state of Illinois and that was an incredible feeling for us.
During our eight days in Beardstown we played a total of six games. It was obvious that a great deal of planning and work had taken place to make sure it was a memorable event. The opening ceremony and the breakfast banquet were outstanding. Each game featured a live performance of the National Anthem and a person recognized to throw out the honorary first pitch.
We express special thanks to Tim Ward and the Illinois District 17 staff, Tournament Director Tom Schlueter and the Beardstown LL Board of Directors, the group of experienced volunteer umpires and the grounds crew that had the diamond in perfect shape in spite of heavy spring flooding at the field.
Congratulations on your 60th season of Little League Baseball!
In closing, on behalf of the entire JRW family, we would like to extend sincere thanks to all of the people of Beardstown and Cass County your friendship, kindness and generosity. Thank you for allowing us into your community, your churches and your hearts and for great memories that will last us all a lifetime.
Darold Butler and