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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
The teams won their divisions in the District 15 tournament and hope to make it to the Little League World Series.
By DEREK LARIVIERE, Times Correspondent
Published July 10, 2007
CRYSTAL RIVER - When Ray Schnyderite, the president of West Hernando Little League, suggested that the representatives from his league would win nearly every district title last week, one could not help but take the statement in stride.
Of course the president would be confident in his kids. Of course he expected them to perform well. But there was no way that West Hernando could be that far ahead of the competition, right?
Apparently, Schnyderite knew something the rest of the area did not. Four teams from West Hernando strolled through the District 15 tournaments out of the six divisions that competed. Prior to this campaign, only one other team from the league had ever won a district title: the 2005 Senior Division All-Stars.
This season, the hope for a run at Williamsport, Pa., continues for the 11- and 12-year-old Major All-Stars. Led by manager Tony Walton, the squad defeated Dunnellon 6-4 in the championship game. The locals fell behind 0-4 early but rallied to take the crown. That resiliency will go a long way when the team makes their way to the state tournament in Dunedin.
More wins could lead to a possible berth in the 61st annual Little League World Series. All Florida teams are playing to represent the southeast region of the United States in the tournament. The organization has a storied tradition both nationally and internationally, with stars such as Hall of Famer Bob Gibson and major-league All-Star Mike Mussina serving on the board of directors.
"This is exciting for all of us and the community of parents, coaches and umpires that make up our league," Schnyderite said. "We have a great group of adults supporting these kids, so I wouldn't be surprised to them make it even farther."
While the 11- and 12-year-olds are looking ambitiously at an appearance on ESPN in the long run, the other district champions might be even more dominant on their levels.
The Minor All-Stars, made up of 10- and 11-year-olds, won their championship final 10-0. The Junior team, managed by Jim Wright, scored 16 runs in a finals win against Lady Lake, and the Senior team went undefeated on their way to the district crown.
The managers of the two oldest teams in the competition both pointed to pitching as one of their teams' biggest assets going into the opening round games.
"When I point to the seven legitimate starting pitchers our team has, I mean it," Wright said. "These guys are capable of getting almost anyone out."
That flexibility makes coaching these boys a blast for Wright. His Junior All-Stars outscored their opponents 72-4 over the course of the weeklong tournament, allowing just 16 base runners in the process. In the final game, five of the team's aces combined to allow just three hits and three walks over seven innings.
The Senior All-Stars outscored their opponents 46-5. The team had two shutouts in its four wins. However, the team's experience in the finals was pretty difficult. The squad went up 1-0 early on, but in the next five innings, a roller-coaster ride ensued.
Going into the final inning, manager Jim Diven's team found itself down 5-4. Then, the West Hernando team scored two runs off Crystal River in the final moments to yield the title.
On July 20, all four of the District 15 championship teams will make their way to Dunedin for this season's state tournament. After that, only one more step exists between them and the ultimate goal of playing in the Little League World Series.