WALLA WALLA — Walla Walla Pacific Little League recently accomplished a great feat: all three of its All-Star teams — 9-10s, 10-11s, and 11-12s — made their state tournaments after winning their respective district tournaments.
As league president John Zodnick’s recent guest column in the Union-Bulletin said, this
When and where
in Oak Harbor, Wash.
vs. District 12 (Tri-Cities and Yakima)
in Gig Harbor, Wash.
vs. Queen Anne (Seattle)
in Vancouver, Wash.
All tournaments are double-elimination
Winner of 11-12s advances to regional tournament in San Bernardino, Calif.
is the first time in District 5’s — not to mention Pacific’s — history that one league swept all three levels.
It didn’t take long, however, for Zodnick to realize the logistical problems sending 37 baseball players to three separate tournaments raised.
“As it went to three teams (going to state), it went, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got to raise a lot of money,’” Zodnick said Thursday.
If you haven’t noticed your local Little Leaguers out on street corners selling onions, washing cars, or asking for donations, you haven’t been looking.
And that’s because the goal this year is to raise $15,000 — $5,000 per team — to help pay the players’ and their parents’ way.
Further compounding the issue is the fact that the league had just eight days to fundraise.
“This is the hardest we’ve had to work,” Zodnick said. “It’s the hardest because we have such a short time frame — we have a little over a week to get two-out-of-three teams ready to go.”
Usually, Zodnick said, the Little Leaguers will have two-to-three weeks to raise money for the trip.
So, with the 12s and 10s departing today for tournaments in Vancouver and Oak Harbor, respectively, and the 11s leaving for Gig Harbor next Friday, how have they progressed toward that goal?
Just a hair under $14,000 as of Wednesday, well enough that they canceled a carwash slated for Thursday.
“It’s unbelievable,” Zodnick said. “This community has always supported youth activities like that, and to see them come out in droves for carwashes and things like that, it makes you proud.
“We’re real proud of the whole community for how they stepped up. We couldn’t do it without their support.”
Most successful were the Walla Walla Sweet Onion sales (at $10 per 10-pound box, Zodnick said they usually sell around 900 boxes), followed by the carwashes and outright donations from individuals and businesses.
“I can’t believe the donations we’ve had this year,” Zodnick said. “We’ve had several checks that were just unreal. And then the businesses downtown, they get hit up all year for help and they always have a little support left over for Little League. They always support Little League.”
East vs. West
As the league edges closer to meeting its fundraising goals, the next question is how competitive Pacific will be on the field.
Although it has been relatively dominant locally, with Pacific teams taking the All-City tournament title for four straight years, the best Pacific has managed at state was a fourth-place finish in the 10-11 tournament in 2011.
Part of that comes down to geography, Pacific 12s coach Rob Watilo said.
Watilo, who coached baseball at a variety of levels in Olympia before moving to Walla Walla two years ago, said that many players on westside teams play together year-round in select travel teams before reuniting as an all-star team for Little League. That’s a stark difference from most local players, who likely won’t play travel ball until after growing out of Little League.
Many of the players on Pacific’s teams haven’t played together except as all-stars.
But, “a lot of these kids, they’ve been to state before, so they’ve seen the level of competition,” Watilo said of his team, but “they’re pretty experienced teams we’re playing — we’ve got to bring our A-game and be ready to play.
“The kids are fired up and ready to go. We’re sick of only practice, we’re ready to play a game.”
The 12s, formerly known as Little League Majors, have already seen their fair share of tough competition in the district tournament, losing a game to Asotin County before rebounding for two straight victories over Asotin in the tourney title series to earn their state bid.
“They were pretty excited to push them (Asotin) to a second championship game,” Watilo said. “All three games with Asotin were great games.
“They were tight games, and they handled themselves with great composure,” Watilo said of his team. “They made a few errors here and there, things got tight, but they really maintained their composure in some great games, which is really good to see going into state.”