The best teams of the new Little League division will be at Bomber Stadium.
By JOHN SCHWARB
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 23, 2000
CLEARWATER -- The Little League World Series is coming to the Tampa Bay area next summer.
No, not that one. Little League boys fast-pitch softball, the newest division of Little League play, will hold three championship tournaments at Bomber Stadium in Clearwater, Little League Baseball announced Tuesday.
In August, the first all-boys softball championships will be contested in three age groups: 9-12 (Little League), 13-16 (Senior League) and 14-18 (Big League).
Little League officials said they don't know what to expect as far as participation and popularity. "Little League baseball is mother's apple pie and Chevrolet," said Bob Gibson, administrator for Florida Little League District 12, which covers North Pinellas and West Pasco and will serve as host of the tournaments. "This is still Little League, but it is totally new."
Boys softball competition was launched last month in large part as a response to the controversy that surrounded the girls softball Senior World Series last summer.
Little League softball debuted in 1974, and boys were allowed to play starting in 1996. In August, a team from Eloy, Ariz., fielded a team with five boys and advanced to the championship tournament.
A team from Inverness opted to forfeit, citing safety issues for its all-girls team. Eloy went on to win the title. In order to avoid similar controversies, Little League Baseball started the boys leagues.
Last year more than 392,000 girls played softball on more than 26,000 teams and about 500 boys played, Little League spokesman Lance Van Auken said.
"It's very safe to say participation in the first year or the first couple years will not be on par with girls softball," Van Auken said. "We have no idea what to expect."
Van Auken said if the number of teams falls considerably short of other divisions, playoff rounds such as state and regional championships might be cut or eliminated.
Four teams in each league, 12 in all, will advance to Clearwater and the World Series. Little League officials opened team registration three weeks ago, and through Wednesday, 11 teams had registered nationally.
As tournament host, Division 12 will be allowed one spot in each championship tournament. But Gibson is unsure if all three spots will be necessary.
"Do I expect (to field three teams)? I don't know," Gibson said. "We're going to find out real quick whether there's any interest or not. I'm not looking to steal from Little League baseball."
Despite the uncertainty, Gibson is excited about the event.
He submitted a letter of request to Little League to host the tournament (in conjunction with the city of Clearwater, which maintains the fields), and the request was enthusiastically accepted.
Pinellas County is used to hosting major Little League tournaments. Gulfport has hosted the Southern Region for more than 30 years (bringing to town players such as Cal Ripken Jr.).
"Do I expect to see 40,000 people getting into Bomber Stadium (eventually)? I don't know," Gibson said. "That would be a super problem to be up against."