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By Ken Begley
I believe that’s how long it’s been since Washington County fielded a team of 11- and 12-year-old boys in the Kentucky Little League tourney. But an incredible group of youth has broken that drought this year. They will play their first game in these state playoffs this coming Saturday in Louisville.
This is a most unusual bunch of players and coaches that seem to come together only once every generation or so. They are in deed an athletically gifted group.
If you were to add up all the individual district and state level competitions played by these players over their short careers, you would come to a number somewhere around 25.
Impressive isn’t it?
Now listen to this.
Ten of the 12 players also played together in the 9-10-year-old Little League team that went to state two years ago. To be honest with you, I don’t think Washington County ever did have another boys’ team in that age level go to state before.
The coaches leading this team are Billy Hilton and Russell Burkhead.
Billy is something of a local legend as a coach of winning ball teams as well as being an incredible player in his youth. He was also one of the coaches on that 9-10-year-old team that went to state. I believe he was also the coach of the last 11-12-year-old team that went to state 18 years ago.
In addition, Russell is no stranger to district all-star play having made quite a few trips there himself with the boys.
When you add it all up, you have a rare combination of youthful skill and spirit among players being led by a couple of coaches who have pretty much seen it all.
It’s fun to watch these boys play the game.
They work together like a well-oiled machine. They have known each other so long on the playing fields that they tend to act and react as if they were all one body. There’s no individuality out there. Everyone is looking out for the team. That’s what makes them beat out traditional powerhouses from counties with a much greater population and therefore a greater number of youth to pick from on their teams.
These young boys have learned many important lessons from playing baseball over the years. I believe if you wrote them down it would look something like this.
There are no real stars when it comes to winning teams. If one man makes up the whole team then it isn’t much of a team, and it sure isn’t destined to go far.
Never quit. Never give up. I don’t care if it is the last few minutes of the game and you’re way behind. You’ll always see the truly great teams battle on to the bitter or victorious end. It’s the spirit that sports miracles are made from.
Play smart. Skill is great. But skill combined with knowledge is nearly always unbeatable.
Finally, no one person ever wins or loses a game. You’re all in this together. You win as a team or you lose as a team.
Those are lessons that can last a lifetime. Sports do more than you think for building young lives.
But do you know the most important thing these boys will bring back with them from the state games?
It’s the friendships and memories of good times that they will never forget. They will still be talking about it 20 years from now when their own kids are playing ball.
You can’t put a price on that.
There’s just one last thing to say to Matthew Bartley, Jordan Bottoms, Evan Blake Burkhead, Adam Krey, Christopher Mann, Travis Mattingly, Wade Moore, Thomas Pettus, John Riney, Justin Shelton, Thomas Spalding, and Adam Smith of the Washington County Little League All-Stars.
Bring us home the “big” trophy!