Take me out to the — rodeo
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It’s a rodeo arena, not a ball park, but don’t be surprised if you’re up in the stands at the 51st Annual Parker Ranch Horse Races and Rodeo today and spot some youthful hawkers in baseball caps calling out, “Peanuts! Get your peanuts here!”
Those are players on the North Hawaii Little League Junior Division All Star team, from Kohala, Waimea, Honokaa, Paauilo, and Kona. And, for the first time in NHLL’s 51-year history, they are going to represent Hawaii Island as a combined team, at the state championship on Oahu, July 11-15.
“We want the Big Island to know Little League is alive and well,” said NHLL President Richard Kaniho. If the team prevails at the state championship, they will travel to the Western Region Tournament in Vancouver, Wash., Aug. 2-7. The winners there will play in the Junior Division World Series, Aug. 11-17.
At the Fourth of July rodeo, the team and their families and boosters will sell boiled peanuts, candy, bottled water and other snacks to help raise travel funds, along with “lucky number” tickets for prize drawings. Donated prizes include golf at Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows, room nights at the Sheraton Kona, certificates from Kamuela Massage, a private tour and dinner for four at Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, and more. Winners will be announced as part of the festivities. Afterward, the players will be picking up trash, too.
“We are doing fine,” said Kaniho. “We already covered the cost of the flights, and right now we’re looking to raise money for incidentals, meals, gas, and other expenses … We really thank Parker Ranch, for having us be a part of the rodeo,” said Kaniho, “and of course all the parents.”
“It means a lot more because there are a lot of ranch families in the League,” said baseball mom and Parker Ranch executive assistant Mel Sanchez. “Assistant coach Tom Richmond works on the Ranch and is a certified farrier. When I saw him in jeans and cowboy boots on the ball field, I thought, ‘It’s Waimea, right?’” Other familiar Parker Ranch family names like Miranda, Kaniho and Bergin are on the roster (see below).
The ranch itself played a bit of a role in baseball history during World War II, when 50,000 Marines trained at Camp Tarawa, leased from then-owner Richard Smart. During this time, Waimea was an exciting place to be, as businesses boomed, celebrities entertained at the USO Club (now Parker School), a rodeo matched cowboy-marines from Texas and Oklahoma with the Parker Ranch paniolo, and baseball games filled the park.
“Everyone in town eagerly scanned the wall of the park backstop for the sign, ‘Ball Game Today!’” wrote Gordon Bryson in a 1995 Waimea Gazette story. “One weekend, a team of town players and marines took on a visiting team that had several major league players on it. The local boys lost by the respectable score of 4-3.” Even Yankees shortstop Phil Rizzuto came to town to play ball with the soldiers and cowboys.
Little Leaguers had a brush with baseball celebrity, too.
“We were selling baked goods at the Catholic Church on Father’s Day,” said Sanchez. “This man came up and introduced himself as Tom Ricketts, chairman of the Chicago Cubs. He said, ‘Congratulations on making it to the championship,’ and the kids were, like, wow. It gave them hope.”
“With this upcoming championship game, a lot of parents didn’t think we would be able to raise the money,” said Sanchez. “But we stepped in with a plan because we owed it to the kids, and to the volunteer coaches and the community, too. We can show how to come together and work together … and that makes for better communities.”
“Little League is very wide; it’s the largest youth sports organization next to AYSO,” said Kaniho. “Everybody plays. Little League is all about fairness.”
Kaniho encouraged anyone with an interest in baseball to join in the ‘ohana. Volunteer coaches and umpires are always needed, for baseball and girls softball as well. Annual fees are only $85 per player, which include insurance, uniforms and other costs.
Children as young as 5 years old can play T-ball or coach-pitch. They move up to the minors at age 9 and the majors at 11. Junior Division, the team going to states, is for players aged 13-15, but youth can continue to play ball through their teens, in Senior Division (16-17) and Big League (17-19). With five local regional leagues on Hawaii Island, each with two or three teams in every age division, plus girls’ softball, that adds up to a lot of kids on the field, and a very healthy baseball program that has survived the test of time.
Little League as an organization has been around since 1939, when Carl Stotz wanted to develop a program for boys in Williamsport, Penn. Today, there are about 200,000 teams, in all 50 U.S. states and more than 80 countries, with the mission to assist young people “in developing the qualities of citizenship, discipline, teamwork and physical well-being. By espousing the virtues of character, courage and loyalty, the Little League Baseball and Softball program is designed to develop superior citizens rather than superior athletes,” according to their website at www.littleleague.org.
Around the country and locally as well, other youth baseball programs have gained recent attention—Protecting Our Nation’s Youth, the Cal Ripken league and Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, a partner of Boys & Girls Club of America. However, with a state championship shot in their future and a strong and supportive community, as Kaniho said, North Hawaii Little League is alive and well.
Good luck, team!
For more information about North Hawaii Little League, or to make a donation to the travel fund, contact Kaniho at email@example.com, call 217-2708, or send donations to: League President Richard Kaniho, P.O. Box 63, Kamuela, HI, 96743.