Columbia rallies behind its Little Leaguers

Thursday, August 17, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:41 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

For years Columbia has followed college football and basketball. This weekend, however, the city will be watching 11 boys play baseball at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

Columbia’s Daniel Boone National Little League team will play its first game at 7 p.m. on Friday on ESPN against Lake Charles, La. Competition continues against Portsmouth, N.H., at 7 p.m. Saturday on ESPN and Beaverton, Or., at 7 p.m. Monday on ESPN2.

Fans could watch the games at home, but businesses are hoping they will get off their couches and enjoy the camaraderie of watching with other fans. On Friday, KMIZ/Channel 17 will broadcast its sports reports from the T. K. Brothers restaurant at 1412 Forum Blvd., where fans can watch the game, Curtis Varns, KMIZ news director, said.

The Columbia Mall will show all three contests on a big-screen TV in its Café Court, Carrie Nicholson, Columbia Mall assistant marketing director, said.

“We just want to congratulate the team and give everybody a chance to watch the games together,” she said.

The mall will offer discounts on food and will give away prizes during breaks in the game.

Boosters have supported Missouri football and basketball for years, and the community has now gotten behind its Little League team. As of Wednesday afternoon, the team had raised $27,800, Ann Echelmeier, wife of coach Jeff Echelmeier, said.

The funds will offset the costs of travel, food and lodging of the families going to Williamsport. After following their players to district, state and regional tournaments, they are short of money.

“We’re just so appreciative of all the support people have given to the team,” she said.

The community support has been outstanding, Phil Porter, president of Daniel Boone Little League, said. “Everywhere I turn, and everywhere I go, people want to give money,” he said. The interest is not just limited to Columbia. People from Mexico, Mo., and California, Mo., have called, Porter said.

Truman’s Bar and Grill donated 10 percent of its total gross sales Wednesday to the team.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” owner Russ Fischer said.

Daniel Boone Little League relies on the community to support all of its teams, not just the one in Williamsport, Porter said. Fifty-nine businesses are listed as sponsors on the Daniel Boone Little League Web site. Sponsorships pay for teams’ uniforms and equipment as well as umpires’ wages.

Coach Jeff Echelmeier, who arrived in Williamsport with the team Monday afternoon, said he has received calls and stories from Columbia.

“I don’t know how to put in words how thankful we are,” he said.

On Wednesday, the team practiced at 10 a.m. After lunch, the coaches and players visited the Little League Museum, where the boys watched highlights of previous World Series, dating all the way back to the ’40s.

Despite all the activities, Echelmeier said the boys are getting stir-crazy.

“They are anxious to get playing,” he said.

To fill time before tonight’s Grand Slam Parade, which St. Louis Cardinals Hall-of-Famer Lou Brock will marshal, the team will have two practices, Echelmeier said. One will focus on fielding, the other on hitting. The team will finally take the field Friday night.

Many Daniel Boone Little League players will be cheering this weekend. The team in Williamsport represents only a small number of participants in the league, Porter said. Approximately 1,200 boys and girls from 5 to 14 play baseball and softball at the Columbia Insurance Group Sports Park at 1801 Scott Blvd. Because of the city’s large population and Little League International regulations, the Daniel Boone Little League has three divisions: the American League, the National League, and the East League. Players are placed in a league based on where they live within Columbia Public School boundaries.

The team in Williamsport is a group of All-Stars selected by players and coaches of the Daniel Boone National Little League. Players voted for the first six participants, and coaches chose the remaining five. The American League created an All-Star team in the same manner. The National League team, on its way to Williamsport, defeated the American League team in district competition in Sedalia.

After winning the district, the team won the state tournament in Concordia and the regional tournament in Indianapolis. It will compete against 15 other teams in Williamsport.

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