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District 20 administrator Tim Trevier hugs District 18 administrator Wanda Sands as her late husband, Cliff, is honored during the opening ceremonies for the Central Region Tournament on Friday at Washington Park in Peru. Cliff Sands, who umpired Little League for 33 years and was scheduled to umpire this year’s tournament, passed away earlier this year. NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
The Central Region Tournament opening ceremonies have a special feel to it every summer.
However, this year’s annual tournament began with a different kind of special as Cliff Sands, who died in June, was honored for his 33 years of Little League umpiring.
“This tournament was the world to him,” said Wanda Sands, Cliff’s widow and District 18 administrator. “We always came over with the guys. It was a great bond. He made the Senior League World Series last year in Bangor, Maine and we spent the time up there with the Senior League.
“He breathed baseball. Baseball was his life.”
The Kankakee native who was scheduled to umpire at the tournament was honored with a ceremonial bag pipes performance from the Chicago Police Department and gifts of a baseball, a Central Region umpire polo shirt and a baseball vase full of flowers presented to his family.
Wanda Sands knew there was going to be a celebration of her husband’s dedication to Little League since she was asked to throw the first pitch, but she didn’t expect all that was planned.
“It was amazing and it was hard,” Wanda Sands said. “I kind of dreaded it all day because it brought back a flood of memories of the years we spent traveling to different tournaments. We’ve been to Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan — we traveled everywhere. This was truly, truly amazing. I didn’t know it was going to be this much. They only told me I was going to throw the first pitch.”
After family members hugged some of the other umpires, who Wanda considers extended family, everyone was ready to get underway with the rest of the opening ceremonies for the tournament Cliff loved.
Challenger Game The players of the Challenger League were ready to show the crowd what they could do at the plate.
The A-Team’s AJ started the game off with a single and was brought around by Maegan after Mackenzie and Adam had loaded the bases.
When the pitcher wasn’t paying attention, Adam hustled toward home for the stolen base and capped off the accomplishment with a head-first slide to the plate.
“The kids really enjoy this,” said Alicia Hughes, the head of the Challenger League, which has 12 regular season games during the summer. “Ever since we got the tournament back four years ago we’ve been doing this. I am usually more nervous than the kids, ironically. They really, really enjoy the crowd cheering for them.
“I think it gives them confidence and it’s a lot of fun for everybody.”
Megan and Madison connected for singles and were brought around by a hard-hit shot out of the infield by Bishop.
C.J. put his stamp on the end of the A-Team’s inning by hitting an in-the-park home run.
The B-Team wasn’t going to back down from the challenge.
Maddy began the inning with a single and stole home with an assisted high sweep of her legs across home plate, while Harley and Zach reached first with singles.
Vince brought his own pitcher to the game —former La Salle-Peru baseball coach Bill Booker — and drilled the second pitch past Booker.
Annika, Cordell and Jacque finished the hitting and the scoring as the B-Team’s scoring power matched the A-Team.
Hitting Contest Ottawa American representative Evan Snyder smacked a 10-point home run out of the park in the first round but couldn’t get enough points behind the dinger to advance him.
Hitting eighth, Snyder’s score of 22 put him in the fourth and final advancing slot with one battler left.
However, Indiana power hitter Jordan Burnsworth put 27 on the books to eliminate Snyder.
“The (hitting contest) is very cool,” Snyder said. “I didn’t do so hot but it’s awesome to get out here with some of these kids who can stick. It’s cool to be a part of this.
“It’s usually Peru who comes in here and wins District 20 easily. We knocked them out in the tournament and all of this has just been a cool experience.”
The two-round hitting contest, which has point values to each area of the field, saw six home runs hit out of the park.
Three of them were hit by the contest’s winner, Justin Wagler, of the Ohio team. “It was mostly because of pitching,” Wagler said. “My coach threw meatballs and some of the other guys had more than five bad pitches, so they didn’t get 10 good swings. Coach (Tom Gibson) threw it right down the middle. I tried to take it like (batting practice) and get some points if I could.”
Wagler won both rounds as he bested Burnsworth and Kentucky’s Brayden Houston’s score of 27 in the first round with a 36 and then scored the best round of the event with 43 to best Burnsworth (23) once again.
Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6995, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.
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