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Little League World Series announces US-only tournament for 2021

DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette A view of Howard J. Lamade Stadium at the Little League World Series is shown.

Little League International president and CEO Steve Keener announced Monday there will be a World Series in South Williamsport this summer, but it will not feature any international teams. Instead, the annual event will be comprised of 16 American teams.

The decision to not have international teams came down to a number of contributing factors, Keener said. Among them was the uncertainty of international locations being able to host regional tournaments this year, as well as the inability to secure traveling Visas for the international teams which qualified.

This will be the first time since 1975 no international teams will compete at the Little League Baseball World Series. Little League banned all non-U.S. teams in 1975 due to allegations of Taiwan using out-of-district players. That is the only year since 1957 there has not been an international team in the field. International teams, which made their debut with a team from Montreal in 1952, were reinstated to the tournament in 1976 and have been involved ever since.

Little League International will also host its annual World Series for softball in Greenville, North Carolina this summer. That tournament will feature 10 teams from around the United States.

“Last year the magical 12-year-old season was taken away from Little League kids everywhere and that’s the last thing we wanted to do this year,” Keener said.

According to Little League, all players and coaches will undergo COVID-19 testing prior to, and upon, arriving at the tournament locations. Players and coaches will also have limited contact with outside personnel until negative tests are confirmed.

There will be no World Series for the Little League Intermediate (50/70) Baseball, Junior Baseball, Junior Softball, Senior Baseball or Senior Softball divisions. All of those tournaments will conclude at the state level.

The 16 teams for the World Series will be determined through the eight U.S. regionals for baseball and the five regionals in softball. The two teams which reach the regional championship game will both qualify for this year’s World Series. What exactly the tournament will look like has not yet been determined.

“With 16 teams, in all likelihood, it will be two eight-team divisions playing in some type of format to what you’ve seen in the past,” Keener said, noting more information will be determined in June.

Unlike in years past, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, general admission fans will likely not be allowed at the complex to watch games this year. Those allowed to attend will be parents and family of players and coaches, and a select few from the communities of qualifying teams. Little League will determine how many will be able to attend at a later date.

“In order for us to play effectively and conduct the tournaments, we need to work to know that we have an idea of how many people will be on site and arrange for all of the operational aspects like security, parking, traffic control,” Keener said. “We’re going to have to figure out how to do that with a small number this year. I don’t think we’ll have opportunity to make too many adjustments. It’s very likely that attendance will be limited to family and community members.”

Little League will monitor the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s guidelines regarding mask-wearing at outdoor events as the Series gets closer. Keener said Little League made a vow to follow guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and public health guidelines.

“Whatever they are is what we will comply with and require everyone here to comply with,” Keener said.

The MLB Little League Classic will be played Aug. 22 at Bowman Field as scheduled between the Los Angeles Angels and the Cleveland Indians.

“What we were talking about with Major League Baseball, we have the same concerns with the kids at the World Series going to Bowman Field. We’ll have to put some measures in place to make sure they’re protected over there and Major League Baseball said that will be their first priority too,” Keener said.

While the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce organizes the Grand Slam Parade through downtown Williamsport which kicks off the start of Little League World Series, Keener said because of efforts to mitigate the risk of exposure the kids will not participate in the parade.

“I don’t know if you can have a parade without them, that’s up to the chamber and if they think they can do that, but the teams will not be able to participate,” Keener said.

Little League’s regional sites for both major division baseball and softball are at Little League-owned sites. The other regional sites are all operated at volunteer host sites. Putting together a COVID mitigation plan, such as the one for South Williamsport and Greenville locations, would be difficult to operate with volunteers at those sites. Little League held a Zoom meeting prior to the announcement Monday afternoon with 45 or 50 representatives of the other regional tournaments and World Series for the teenage divisions to explain the decision to not hold those tournaments.

Dan Lueders, the Chair for Little League International Pandemic Response Advisory Commission and a UPMC sports medicine physician, explained to those representing the other regional sites the commission’s process of evaluating all the scenarios and why it wouldn’t be fair to ask them to host under those circumstances, Keener said.

“The best way to characterize it is while they were disappointed, they understood,” Keener said.

Little League is still planning to expand the World Series in South Williamsport to 20 teams in 2022. The Little League Softball World Series will expand to 12 teams that year as well. It will also be a celebration for the 75th anniversary of Little League Baseball next year.

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