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Making a case for the Federal story

August 15, 2008|By DAN KAUFFMAN

"Is Federal Little League reaching the Little League World Series the biggest sports story in Washington County history?"

I've posed that question to quite a few people in the last few days. They've all done the same thing I have: Thought about it for a little while, then come to the conclusion that, "Yeah, it may be."

Consider, for a second, the sheer odds against Federal: About 7,500 11-12 All-Star teams started play in district tournaments across the United States five weeks ago, and only eight of them reached the Little League World Series.

With all due respect to the 1950 and 1968 National Little League teams that played in the Little League World Series, Little League has grown substantially in the last 40 years, making it much more difficult for a team to make it to Williamsport, Pa.

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When Willie Mays came back to Hagerstown in 2004 so that Hagerstown -- in the form of then-Mayor William M. Breichner -- could apologize for the racism Mays had to face in the first professional games of his career in 1950 -- it was justifiably a big story.

But it also was a different kind of story, one of forgiveness, putting the past in the past and moving forward. It wasn't the kind of story our community could rally around.

Federal's story certainly is. And judging by our sports department's phones, which were ringing off the hooks last week as people simply could not wait until the next morning to find out if Federal won again -- it's a story that resonates with all of us.

On Sunday, I caught an ESPN commercial promoting Monday's broadcast of the Mid-Atlantic Regional champion game. There was something about seeing "Hagerstown, Md." on the screen that brought with it a boost of pride. I've lived in Washington County all my life, and in Hagerstown since I was 7. My sense of pride came from the idea that this is my town and, in a way, this is my team.

I know I'm not the only one who feels that. I even know of a few people who live thousands of miles from Hagerstown who still feel that sense of pride.

I received an e-mail from Gary Fahrney, who played at Federal as a 9-year-old in 1963. His younger brothers, Rick and Tom, followed behind him as players at Federal, and his father, Bill, was a coach. Gary Fahrney now lives in Palm Harbor, Fla., but he let me know he would be rooting Federal on. He was hoping for a Little League World Series game between his former hometown team and his current hometown team -- Citrus Park Little League, which won the Southeast Regional.

So many people -- myself included -- have so many memories of their own time in Little League. I played at Federal in 1991, as a small 11-year-old on a team that went 3-17, and I was about as far from an All-Star as a player can be. But I also had the game-winning hit in one of those three victories, and I'll remember the overwhelming joy of that moment until my dying day.

Just about everybody who ever played in Little League has a story like that. But not everyone has the kind of story the players, coaches, parents and relatives of the Federal All-Stars will have when it's all said and done.

Thankfully, we're all fortunate enough to be able to follow Federal's final step in this fairy-tale ride. If you can't make it to Williamsport, you can follow Federal on TV, as all three of its pool-play games will be broadcast live. Federal plays Jeffersonville, Ind., tonight at 8 p.m. on ESPN, faces Mill Creek, Wash., on Monday at noon on ESPN2, and battles Lake Charles, La., on Tuesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.

Win or lose, Federal Little League has done us all proud.

Dan Kauffman is a sports writer for The Herald Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7520, or by e-mail at kauffman@herald-mail.com

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