Despite not reaching the Little League World Series championship, Great Lakes Region titlist New Castle, Ind., Little Leaguers and coaches would have loved staying until the end.
However, there is one specific group that is thrilled to have players back today - their middle school teachers.
The New Castle Middle School started classes Aug. 2, two days before the Great Lakes Regional tournament started. That means, the New Castle Little Leaguers missed nearly three full weeks of school.
The players lived a fantasy this summer, but now it is back to reality. Now it's back to school.
"We have 12 kids and that's probably the last thing they want to do," New Castle manager Tim Porter said following a 4-0 loss to New England champ Fairfield, Conn., in its final Series game. "I'm sure the teachers want us back home and like every team here we've been on the road for a long time."
Because the players have missed so much school time, New Castle coaches have had to wear two different labels. They also have been acting as teachers, making the kids do homework two hours a day.
Getting those players to field grounders is one thing, but this is a tougher task. Still, they found a way to get it done. But now it's time to start doing the work full-time.
"We've gotten more done than we anticipated done," Porter said. "There's a lot of people back home we'd like to see. Some of the kids are a little homesick and I'm homesick. We'd like to stay here, but there's some business we need to take care of back in New Castle.
LEARNING QUICK: Lugazi, Uganda, provided the Series' feel-good story by overcoming long odds and reaching South Williamsport. The Middle East/Africa Region champs put an exclamation point on their fairy-tale season Tuesday against Northwest champ Gresham, Ore., erasing a 2-0 deficit and winning, 3-2, in their final game.
Uganda is the first African nation to play at the Series and now it is its first winner. And it was some rapid learning that helped make the win possible.
Manager Henry Odong said his team was more focused on hitting home runs than anything when it arrived at the Series. After watching Asia Pacific champ Taoyuan, Taiwan and the Williamsport Cross- cutters, though, Odong realized what a mistake that was.
"I come to realize that the techniques people are using here and the techniques we were using back home were different. These kids swing bats like big guys because of the terrible bats we have but I watched those games and realized these kids are making contact," Odong said. "I told these kids let's use the technique of contact. Let's not just use power. I told them if you do the right thing we shall get a win and if you don't do the right thing we'll lose. I asked them, 'do you want to lose?' and they said, 'no' and they did the right thing."
Uganda delivered a Series-high seven hits and scored three runs in the fourth and fifth innings to win. It also did so without hitting a home run. All those players are 11-years-old and if they learn as quick as they did in South Williamsport, they could be back again next year.
TOUGH KID: Ryan Meury received a major scare, along with a fat lip and some stitches, when he was hit in the face by a sixth-inning pitch in his Series debut. Meury, an outstanding pitcher and center fielder for New England champ Fairfield, Conn., left the game and it appeared he might miss the rest of the Series.
Meury's upper lip was swollen and his lower one received stitches. He had trouble eating and talking was no easy task. But he never missed another game. Meury returned a day later and helped Connecticut win its next two games while finishing fourth in the country.
A spark at the top of Connecticut's lineup and a dominant pitcher, Meury showed he is as talented as he is tough throughout the season and made a memorable play in his final Little League win.
Will Lucas was three outs away from throwing a no-hitter Monday when New Castle's Cory Murphy hit a fly ball to the deepest part of center field. Meury calmly went back, stuck his glove up high and made the nice catch before the ball could bounce high off the wall. Two outs later, Lucas was a member of an exclusive club, throwing a Little League World Series no-hitter.
"I saw him hit it pretty far and Ryan made a great play going back on it," Lucas said. "Right when it came off the bat I was really scared."
Even after taking a pitch off his face, Meury never was. He was fearless and now he is a part of history.
ROCK STAR: Odong might be the most popular coach in Little League World Series history. Since arriving in South Williamsport, Odong and his players have been smash hits, drawing huge crowds wherever they go.
Odong has been the biggest star, though, captivating fans with his charm and charisma. Hours after Uganda won its first Series game Tuesday, Odong attended the Connecticut-California game and constantly was greeted by well-wishers who posed for pictures with him or received his autograph.
Odong has been like a rock star, but he hardly has acted like one. Gracious and modest, Odong never turned down anyone and greeted every person with a smile.
Who wins the world championship remains to be seen. Years from now, chances are more people will remember Odong and his classy team more than whoever wins the coveted title.