All-Stars make community proud

Published 7:48 pm Friday, August 10, 2007

By By ERIKA PICKLES / Niles Daily Star
NILES – The Niles Senior Baseball All-Stars have been representing our community with flying colors not only on the baseball diamond, but off the field as well.
The team captured the Little League Central States Regional championship Wednesday night with a 3-0 victory over Iowa. Now, the All-Stars will head to Bangor, Maine on Saturday to compete in the Little League Senior League World Series. Games begin on Sunday.
This group is talented in many ways, but what keeps other teams so intrigued is the fact that they are, in general, just a great group of kids.
"It was so neat during the final game because the Ohio team, who we beat in the semifinals, actually rooted for our team. The parents and players stayed for the game and we had so many compliments from other parents on how well our kids were behaved. It was like there was no hostility at all. Everyone just had a great time," Shawn Dunlap, mother of Justin Stroud, said Thursday.
Molly Brawley, mother of Andrew, agreed that the team is one-of-a-kind and said it's nice to see kids from different schools playing together and getting along so well.
"Most of these kids have played together for a long time. There are a few new ones, but it doesn't matter, they get all get along great."
Brawley continued, saying the group played a perfect team game Wednesday night. "They are so solid from top to bottom. You never know who is going to get the big hit or make the big play. A few years ago, we always said that if we could get the group of kids from Niles, Brandywine, Buchanan and Edwardsburg together, they would be a phenomenal team and here we are. It's just a great opportunity for these kids and they are more than excited about this," she said.
The team began their journey only a few weeks ago, as tournaments began at the end of July. The All-Stars defeated White Pigeon, 4-3, in district play; fell to Blissfield 2-1 in the first of three game, but rallied for a 4-3 and 14-3 win to claim the sectional title; defeated Petoskey 11-1 in the state finals and topped it off with the regional win.
"Even after being together all this time, being cooped up in hotel rooms and seeing each other everyday, they still get a long so well," Dunlap added.
Brawley has especially enjoyed this season, as it's the first her husband, Jim, has not coached the team.
"He coached these kids for a long time. He took them to state tournament when they were 12-year-olds, coached the travel teams and has worked with most of them since they started. It was really nice having him next to me in the stands and I think he really enjoyed it," Brawley said.
One thing Paula Johnson enjoys is cooking food for the kids when they are at tournaments. "It's just something I've done for years. I want to make sure the kids eat good between games, and it also saves money as we don't have to constantly buy food from restaurants or concession stands."
Johnson explained some of the meals she prepares, which includes grilled chicken fajitas, hamburgers, spicy chicken and even egg mcmuffins.
"The kids deserve it. This group is just amazing. They are very respectful and they get along very well. When it's game time it's game time. These kids have stayed focus through all these tournaments and they play great together," she added.
Johnson will be heading to Maine to cheer on her son, Corey, and the rest of the All-Stars. Thanks to the generosity of her boss, Johnson has been able to attend all of the tournaments.
"I came in at noon (Thursday) after only getting three hours of sleep and will be here late tonight, then back again at 6:30 in the morning. But this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and my boss understands that. He said if they were his kids, he would be there too, so I'm so thankful they understand and are giving me the time off," she said.
Niles will play its first game on Sunday night as it faces Latin America (Paraguana) at 8 p.m.
On Monday, Niles will take on the East Regional champion at 1 p.m., while on Tuesday it will face Vilnius at 10 a.m. The fourth game for the All-Stars will pit them against Rose Capital on Thursday at 8 p.m.
Niles is scheduled to have an off day on Wednesday, Aug. 15.
There will be a send-off at Thomas Stadium tonight at 7 p.m.