Instead of a winning trophy, the McLean Girls Softball team members brought home hard-earned life lessons from the World Series game they played in Portland last week. The athletes, coaches and parents all concur the game was about how it was played, not about whether it was won or lost.
Fourteen girls from McLean, sporting tangerine orange jerseys printed with the word “South” emblazoned on them (for the region they had won), played what has been described as a “David and Goliath” game vs. repeat winner Waco. Though Waco players wore black jerseys, their team was not considered the dark horse, as they’ve won 11 out of the last 13 World Series competitions.
Initially, the ladies held their own against the experienced Waco team but ultimately lost the game 18-5. Friends and family members back in Virginia gathered together to cheer on the home team and never appeared to lose hope that the girls would turn the game around.
“We learned it takes a lot of hard work to get there,” said player Megan Sullivan. “You win as a team, and you lose as a team. It’s not one person’s error.”
Teammates, other Little League members, family and supporters all gathered at the Little League field on Westmoreland Drive in McLean on Sunday to welcome back the players and celebrate their achievements with an American-fare picnic. The field was decked out with red, white and blue balloons and swag banners to mark the festivities.
“Every kid, at some point, did something phenomenal,” said parent Jean Sullivan. “It was an incredible ride for us, and we enjoyed every minute of it because we never knew when it would end.”
“THEY NEVER GAVE UP. Never. There were a number of other games we were down and came back. They worked hard and played well. They were out there representing every Little Leaguer all over because they were the underdog in this,” said Sullivan.
Team spirit for the McLean girls extended beyond softball fans and team followers. People gathered in restaurants in McLean and Great Falls to watch the game, which was broadcast live on ESPN.
Friends of the team packed Rocco’s Restaurant in McLean to cheer on the team together. Rocco’s has sponsored McLean Little League for 26 years.
Salvatore Tangouree describes himself as “a random fan at large” who, after watching the first inning, is “now a die-hard fan.” Astra Grimbald, whose daughters played in the League in previous years, said, “This reflects the talent prevalent throughout McLean.”
Jamie Loving, wife of coach Jamie Loving, stayed in McLean to care for the couple’s infant daughter. She nervously paced the dining room floor at Rocco’s, glancing up at the television screen and offering words of encouragement and praise to the girls she’s come to know so well through her husband. Jamie Loving said during the game, “This is a win-win situation, no matter what happens. They have gone further than any other team.”
Kevin Fay, the Dranesville representative for the Fairfax County Park Authority, said, “This is just fantastic for the girls, great for the League, and super for the community. To get this far is really special.”
The sentiment that just getting to the big game was momentous for the town of McLean was repeatedly echoed during the game. Several people commented that this created an opening for future teams and set the bar at a new height for Little League players in the area.
Optimism crested and fell during the second inning, when the McLean team gave up five runs. It never recovered those runs.
“It wasn’t our best game. It seemed harder because we didn’t play that well, and they were really good,” said team member Rachel Ing. “But we also learned that it’s not one mistake that makes a difference. It’s really a team effort.”
Jean Sullivan said the girls handled the loss with grace, and because of the emotional support they had from their coach, they were not devastated by losing the World Series. “There was a momentary disappointment, but there was never a need for us to pump them up,” said Jean Sullivan.
THE WACO TEAM has the advantage of being able to practice year-round because of the climate in Texas. “They do practice all the time. We practice for just a few months,” said Ing. “When you practice as much as they do, you’ll have as many World Series titles as they do,” added Megan Sullivan.
“Waco can play a couple of different games. They played a bunting game against us,” said Jean Sullivan.
Coach Jamie Loving said, “For myself and for the girls, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The trip to Portland was for me a dream come true, and by the time we got there, they were on board with the dream too.
“My hope is that they came away from all this with lifetime memories. Overall, I hope they gained a lot of self-confidence. It took 14 players for us to play this game. If it came down to it, bases loaded and two outs, they all need to, have to, want to be the one at the plate,” said Coach Loving.
“And secondly, teamwork. They learned with this group what it means to be a part of a team,” he said.
“The girls did what he asked and performed for him. This was a team game,” said Jean Sullivan.
Paul Frank, the vice president of business development and community affairs with First Service Bank, has followed the team throughout the year. First Service Bank in McLean is the major sponsor for the League. “It don’t think it matters whether they won or didn’t win. They did a phenomenal job, and they were there, which is impressive. Someone had to win, and someone had to lose that game.” said Frank.
The bank had planned a surprise for the girls and the greater McLean community during the nationally televised game, but it never came to fruition. The bank had ordered, developed and paid a premium for an advertisement congratulating the team, which was scheduled to run during the game. “Something happened, and it didn’t air. So what we’re doing now is hanging up a banner that acknowledges all the teams that did well this season,” said Frank.
The parents and siblings who traveled to Portland to support the team got the added bonus of being able to bond with each other during the event. The League uses a host system for travel games, and the players are put up by local League families. “Because of the host family concept, that freed us up. We got together as parents every night, laughed and had a great time. We always knew the girls were being taken care of,” said Jean Sullivan.