Funding the fun
When a team finally pushes its way through the regional tournament and earns a berth to South Williamsport for the Little League World Series, it’s a great feeling for everyone on the roster and in that community.
But towns that have had Little League teams make it to the series know, for as much fun as it is to cheer on their hometown heroes as they take on teams from across the globe, it doesn’t come without some financial burden.
By the time a team plays in the regional tournament, things have already started getting costly for its local Little League program and the families of the players. With most teams traveling hundreds of miles to play in states and regionals, the collective cost of food, gas, and hotel fees can range in the thousands of dollars. Once they work their way into the Little League World Series, the prices really start to skyrocket.
With teams coming into South Williamsport from all over the world, it’s not hard to understand why the trip is so expensive. The two teams with the furthest to travel, Australia and Japan, trek more than 9,000 miles just to get here; most others have to travel at least a thousand miles. Costs associated with flying support for a 14-kid team and coaching staff that distance are pretty steep.
For most teams in the series, it takes upwards of $10,000 for them to make the journey. That isn’t an easy amount of money for any Little League program to come by, especially when the costs of just keeping a program running – let alone flying a team half-way around the world – can be so expensive.
It is for this reason that the majority of teams turn to their communities to help them raise the money they need to make it here.
“The parents and the community help our team very much,” Puerto Rico head coach Roberto Cruz said. “They always do some (fundraising) activities to help the team make it to all of the tournaments.”
“They are willing to make all of those sacrifices because their reward is for the kids to be here.”
Southern Nashville assistant coach Ryan Mullins agreed with Cruz on the importance of community support for teams who make it to the series, saying his group has relied heavily on the gracious donations of local fans to help make their dream of reaching South Williamsport come true.
“They are supporting us all of the way,” Mullins said. “We have had a lot of sponsors and people who have helped us tremendously. We couldn’t have made it without them.
“I know they will be tuning in to watch, so hopefully we can feel good about what we do here.”
Along with local sponsors, many teams also turn to fundraising events to help raise money. These usually include raffles, bake sales, cookouts, and the selling of team merchandise. The Mountain Ridge Little League team from Nevada did all of those, and also went a more original route – selling root beer floats to help earn part of the necessary funds.
Aside from these more traditional avenues of monetary support, teams have also turned to the internet to help them with earn more cash for the trip. Websites like gofundme.com and youcaring.com are just two of the places they turn to online to help make them a little more financially solvent. Additionally, social media websites like Facebook and Twitter are good tools to raise awareness of fundraising events.
“The community has been unbelievable,” Australia coach Grant Johnson said. “They have been behind us the whole time.”
“We need that kind of support.”
Johnson also pointed out that it isn’t just hard raising the funds necessary to get the team to South Williamsport, it’s also tough on the families that make great sacrifices to ensure they can be in attendance at the tournament. In fact, most teams that show up have a traveling group of dedicated fans that ranges between 50 to 100 people. They can miss a month or more of work to follow their team.
“We have had so many parents and grandparents make the trip, and that is such a long way,” Johnson said. “A lot of people had to take out a second mortgage on their house just to make it across.”
“They will be paying that off for the next 10-15 years, but they couldn’t miss this experience of seeing the kids play baseball here.”
The Great Lakes representative from the Jackie Robinson Little League in Chicago expects to have one of the biggest fan sections this year, with the exception of Philadelphia’s Taney Little League, who will have a fan-base advantage for obvious reasons.
“We always have a huge group with us,” Chicago assistant coach Jerry Houston said. “To be able to look out and see how many families make it to all the tournaments is a wonderful thing,”
Houston said that having such a supportive group behind his team is one of the reasons they have endured so much success this season. Without them, he said, his team might not be able to handle the stresses that can accompany playing in a tournament of this magnitude.
“It is good to have them here, because when times are tough and the pressure is high, these guys can always look out in the stands and see their moms,” he said. “That is very encouraging for them.”