Either Rapid City, S.D., or Billings, Mont., will make history today.
The Midwest and Northwest champions meet at 3 p.m. in Lamade Stadium and the winner will capture its state's first Little League Baseball World Series victory. This is the first time a Montana team has appeared at the Series and, while South Dakota is making its second trip - its previous entry in 2008 went 0-3 in pool play.
Ironically, the two cities are separated by only 300 miles, yet are traveling a combined 3,389 miles and 48 hours to play each other. The athletes from each team also are getting a head start on their future playing days since both Rapid City and Billings feature outstanding American Legion traditions while often playing each other.
"The (American) Legion programs are huge here and in South Dakota," said Big Sky Little League President Tim Leuthold. "We have a good bunch of kids here who will go on to play Legion ball and there's definitely a lot of Legion talent. It's always a good game when those teams play."
Montana reached the Series for the first time after going 5-1 at regionals and thumping Oregon, 7-1, in the championship. South Dakota also went 5-1, downing Nebraska 4-2 in five innings.
COACHING PEDIGREE: Cumberland, R.I., manager Dave Belisle led the Cumberland American Little League to the World Series for the first time. That really is not shocking considering how successful the Belisle family has been in Rhode Island sports.
Dave's father, Bill, has been the Mount St. Charles Academy hockey coach for more than 30 years and guided it to a remarkable 26 consecutive state championships from 1978-2003. After a brief hiatus, Mount St. Charles is back on top, having won the last four state titles. Dave, who was a captain when he played for his father, has been an assistant coach since 1979. He has become a great coach by learning from one of the best.
"Everything I have that's inside of me as far as coaching tools, I got from my father," Dave said. "When it comes to what I have as far as character and what it takes to be a coach as far as passion and discipline and all those things that make you a good coach, he taught me that."
With the Belisles' guidance, Mount St. Charles has produced 20 players who have been NHL draft picks. Brian Lawton and Bryan Berard were selected first overall in 1983 and 1995, respectively.
As successful as the Belisles' have been in hockey, Dave still has a passion for baseball and has been a pillar in the Cumberland American Little League. He has pushed all the right buttons this summer and the confidence he displayed after Massachusetts opened a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning of the New England Regional final transpired to the players. The result was an eight-run bottom of the first as Rhode Island won, 13-7.
Another Belisle hallmark was evident after that game. Rhode Island and Massachusetts players carried the regional banner around the field together and the Rhode Island players have displayed sportsmanship throughout this summer-long run.
"My father never mentions winning. He wants his teams to play hard, play with pride, respect the sport and be passionate," Belisle said. "Then you make sure you shake hands afterward because if you don't then you're playing and coaching for the wrong reasons. There's times it might get heated and you might not want to shake hands, but if you don't, then what message are you sending?"