Columbia hosts Senior League central regional baseball tournament.

Saturday, August 8, 2009 | 12:19 a.m. CDT

Gary Kespohl wanted to host a Little League Baseball regional tournament in Columbia for years. Kespohl, the state director of Little League Baseball, who lives in Columbia, waited for an opening to host the Junior League division, but that position never opened.

But when organizers in Peru, Ill. decided to stop hosting the Little League Baseball Senior League central regional tournament, Kespohl was quick to act. Kespohl successfully auditioned for the part, and in 2008 Columbia hosted the the central regional for the first time. This, despite the fact that Columbia does not have a Senior League of it’s own.

The first regional went off so well, that at the annual Little League Baseball directors meeting on October, Kespohl said there was only one complaint - that it was too hot. It was so hot that week Kespohl said he had to use had to use 4,000 pounds of ice in five days to cool down everything and everyone on site.

Friday marked the beginning of the second Senior League central regional tournament in Columbia. This year, games will be played at both Rock Bridge and Hickman High Schools, allowing for more night games. The tournament will have a total of 21 games and is scheduled to conclude Tuesday. The winning team will travel to Bangor, Maine to play in the Senior League World Series.

Last year, all games were played at Rock Bridge High School, starting at 9 a.m. in the morning and running until the final game ended at 10 p.m. or later. Kespohl says this change to playing mostly night games was done to avoid the mid-Missouri heat.

The Senior League division is for ages 16 and under, while the Junior League division is for ages 14 and under. The Little League division is 12-years-old and under. All three leagues are part of the Little League Baseball organization.

Teams from nine states began the tournament with a brunch Friday morning at the Courtyard by Marriott in Columbia. Newly appointed Missouri Court of Appeals judge Mark Pfeiffer, was the brunch’s guest speaker.

Local author John Hall, who wrote the book "Mickey Mantle:Before the Glory," donated 140 books to be handed out to the participants, and was on hand to autograph the copies.

“Every year it’s about doing something for the kids," Kespohl said. “I hope to put on an event that the kids won’t forget.”

Kespohl enlisted up 32 volunteers to work the regional.

Tim James took time off working at the Missouri Department of Conservation to do groundskeeping for the tournament. James says he enjoys the experience of working the fields and being able to watch the games.

“I’ve been able to go to tournaments like this in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne. Now I’m going to serve the role of host,” James said. “It’s great for the kids, they get to see Columbia and Mizzou. Who knows, maybe a few of them will come to school here.”

Earl Cecil volunteers his time keeping pitch counts during games. Cecil, a retired faculty member from the University of Missouri, says he was more than happy to answer Kespohl’s call to duty.

“It’s a very well done event. I’m very happy to be a part of it,” Cecil said. “I think we’ll keep hosting it here for a long time.”

“We’ll host it in Columbia as long as Little League wants us to have it,” Kespohl said. “Unless we do something major wrong, there will be no reason to move.”

“Columbia is a great place to play ball, but I want this tournament to set an example on how to handle tough situations in life,” he said. “We just do that through baseball.”


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