The Little Leaguers were not the only stars at Saturday’s Wilmington Little League (WLL) opening day celebrations. The ceremony was a celebration of the entire town, from the coaches and parents who support the players to the volunteers and organizations that devote their time to making Wilmington Little League an experience their kids will always remember.
The Parade of Players, in which hundreds of energetic kids are herded into procession, perhaps best epitomized what it looks like when an entire town works together. Families lined the parade’s path from the town common down Church Street to Rotary Park, cheering on their players. The parade was led by the Wilmington Minutemen, who volunteered their flags and muskets for the fourth annual parade.
There was one team that was not like the others: the Wilmington High School Boys Hockey team, still smiling after clinching the Division II title last month. Town Manager Michael Caira remarked that the boys have brought “so much pride” to the community and, if the cheers were any indication, his words could not be more true.
“Wilmington has always had a tradition of excellence, both academically and in sports, and today we would like to recognize another chapter in our town’s history,” said Joe Mullens, Special Events Coordinator, before recognizing each hockey player individually. The team will be joining State Representative Jim Miceli, who was on hand for the event, at the statehouse in a few weeks for recognition of their accomplishment.
Mullens was MC for the ceremony that followed the parade. Calling on the long history of little league to put the day’s meaning in perspective, he spoke about the first little league game in Williamsburg, Penn. on June 6, 1939 in which Lundy Lumber defeated Lycoming Dairy 23-8. Since that day, little league has blossomed into an international organization, he noted, and, today, there are nearly 200,000 teams in over 80 countries worldwide, representing more than 2.6 million girls and boys.
“None of this would be possible without the commitment of local officials and the hard work of many dedicated volunteers,” said Mullens.
Among the number Mullens thanked: Town Manager Caira; the Department of Public Works (DPW) Superintendent Don Onusseit and the crew from the DPW for field maintenance; the Board of Selectmen; the police and fire departments; the Wilmington Kiwanis Club; the Wilmington Minutemen; the Town Crier; the Lowell Spinners; Custom Stitch of Wilmington; Extra Innings of Tewksbury; and Kane Foods, who donated all of those hotdogs for the day. Mullens also extended a blanket thank you to all of the coaches, managers and sponsors, as well as the people who donated food to the first annual food drive that went along with the event. The food drive, co-run by Boy Scout Troop 56, collected more than 100 items for the Wilmington Food Pantry.
The Wilmington Kiwanis Club cooked the 500 hot dogs given out to the players and coaches.
“This is an event we always look forward to,” said President-elect Dennis McCarthy. “This kicks off our season.”
One of the exciting changes for the little league players is the set of new dugouts at Rotary Park, which were completed just in time for opening day festivities. Work on the structures - which included dismantling the old dugouts, laying a new base, building the structures, and applying finishing touches like paint - was kept up by an army of volunteers, who began the project in the fall.
“There were so many people who took part in the planning, the building, and the organizing of the dugouts and I’d like to thank those individuals, as well,” said Mullens.
In addition to naming the dozens of individuals and businesses that donated their time and effort to the event, Mullen extended a special thank you to Mike Gracia, the league’s Grounds and Fields Coordinator.
“I want to recognize the person that really coordinated the entire project from start to finish, put countless hours down here, and was really the main force in getting these dugouts done,” said Mullens of Gracia’s management of the project.
Softball Vice President Tim MacDougall continued the tradition of presenting softball players who have completed all possible ten years within the league with a Wilmington softball jacket. In the past, noted MacDougall, there have only been a handful of players who met the qualifications, but this year was different.
“I’m proud to say that, this year, we have 16 girls that have committed to the game that completed that requirement,” said MacDougall.
The girls who met the requirement and were presented jackets were: Megan Howland, Lauren McKenna, Katie MacDougall, Kennedy Harper, Kelsey Mangan, Erin Duffy, Danielle Reynolds, Jacqueline Kennedy, Jackie Parece, Megan Priem, and Kim Woods.
“Many of these girls are still playing at the high school level in both varsity and JV,” said MacDougall, commending the girls’ commitment to the game despite the demands of high school.
The national anthem was performed by Wilmington’s own Lauren Azevedo, and the first pitches for the day and league’s opening game between the Yankees and the Athletics were thrown out by Bill Savosik and Charles Coleman.
“When we brought back these opening day ceremonies a few years ago, you know the question always becomes: who gets to throw out the first pitch,” said Mullens. “And, it was pretty simple once we thought about it and we’re going to continue that tradition today by honoring two of Wilmington’s veterans.”
Both Coleman and Savosik served in the U.S. Army. Savosik is a Vietnam-era veteran who, up until a few years ago, served as a coach in the WLL. Coleman has completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, just having returned from the latter in January 2012. Both men were presented commemorative baseballs signed by the every player on the opening game teams.
Miceli brought a congratulations from the State House of Representatives to mark the occasion, in which the assembly “offer[ed] its sincerest congratulations to the Wilmington Little League, in recognition of your opening day celebration and many years of good sportsmanship, commitment, hard work, and the love of the sport of baseball. May this season bring you all the fun and excitement that the game of baseball inspires in all of us. The entire membership extends its very best wishes.”
“Someone said it earlier: these are great memories,” said Miceli, echoing the unifying theme of the day. “Keep them close to yourself and, you know as I said, all of the volunteers put in their time to make this thing go. These are people in this community who donate their time, very often in very many causes.”
“Remember to be kind to your teammates and your opponents and especially your umpires,” Caira advised the young players. “And remember that this is a game that you can enjoy, but it’s an experience that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.”