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Keller: With or without state title, players will have memories to last a lifetime

July 27, 2011
  • Mark Keller, Herald-Mail Sports Editor
Mark Keller, Herald-Mail Sports Editor

Seven Little League teams descended upon Maugansville in the last week, all knowing full well that only one team would go home with the prize that would make them happiest.

The coveted prize — the championship of the Maryland State 11-12 Tournament — would actually take the winning team on another trip, one to Bristol, Conn., for the Mid-Atlantic Region Tournament.

It would also get them one step closer to the ultimate trip to South Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series.

The other six teams would just go home. Or so it seems.

While only one team continues playing (at least in tournaments that count) after this one ends today or Friday, the players on those six teams eliminated from the postseason will have a wealth of memories from their time in Maugansville.

And the memories will last those kids for a lifetime, because the phrase “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” should at least ring true at this level.

That’s not to say that these kids should be satisfied with losing. To borrow a phrase from former NFL coach Herm Edwards, you play to win the game.

But winning and losing shouldn’t be life and death for kids at 11 and 12 years old.

This and all tournaments at this age level should be about the experience. And it should be a learning experience.

Every player from every team that played in this tournament has something that it can look back upon fondly, from Elkton and Conococheague — the two remaining teams in the field — to the first team eliminated, Thurmont.

It might be something that happened on the field.

An unexpected hit.

A game-winning homer.

A defensive gem.

A curveball that broke like never before.

And yes, perhaps even a state title and a trip to Bristol.

What I hope these kids remember about this tournament — and any other they’ve been in before or will play in the future — are the things that happen off the field.

Those things that go on before and after the games are the memories that will truly last forever, when it’s just a bunch of preteen kids hanging out together and having fun.

Whether it’s goofing off in the hotel swimming pool, poking fun at each other during pregame warmups or just talking during a long car ride from the Eastern Shore or Northern Maryland, the sense of camaraderie each group of kids enjoys will stay with them longer than the score of any of these games.

Twenty-five years from now, these kids will bump into former teammates after they’ve moved in different directions in life.

They’ll catch up briefly and introduce family members to one another before once again going their separate ways.

As they walk away, the father will be asked by his son, “Who was that?”

“We played Little League together,” the dad will answer.

And it won’t matter then whether they won or lost, it will only matter that they played.

Mark Keller is sports editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7728 or by email at keller@herald-mail.com

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