Little League International president and CEO Steve Keener announced Monday that he will have a World Series in South Williamsport this summer, but will not represent any international teams. Instead, the annual event will consist of 16 American teams.
The decision not to have international teams was reduced to a number of contributing factors, Keener said. Among them was the uncertainty of international locations being able to host regional tours this year, as well as the inability to secure travel visas for international teams that qualified.
This will be the first time since 1975 that no international team will compete in the World League Baseball Series. The Little League banned all non-US teams in 1975 over allegations of Taiwan using players outside the circle. This is the only year since 1957 there has been no international team in the field. International teams, which made their debut with a team from Montreal in 1952, returned to touring in 1976 and have been involved ever since.
Little League International will also host this annual World Softball Series in Greenville, North Carolina this summer. This tournament will be attended by 10 teams from all over the United States.
“Last year the 12-year magic season was taken by Little League kids everywhere and that’s the last thing we wanted to do this year,” Tha Keener.
Under the Little League, all players and coaches will undergo COVID-19 testing before and after arriving at tournament venues. Players and coaches will also have limited contact with outside staff until negative tests are confirmed.
There will be no World Series for Division Baseball, Junior Baseball, Junior Softball, High Baseball or High Level Softball, 50/70 All those tournaments will end at the state level.
The 16 teams for the World Series will be determined through eight US regional baseball and five regional softball teams. Both teams that reach the regional championship match will both qualify for this year’s World Series. How the tournament will look like has not been determined yet.
“With 16 teams, in all likelihood, there will be two divisions with eight teams playing in a kind of format with what you have seen in the past,” Keener said, noting more information will be determined in June.
Unlike previous years, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, general admission fans are likely not to be allowed in the complex to watch games this year. Those allowed to participate will be the parents and families of the players and coaches, and some selected from the communities of qualifying teams. The Little League will determine how many will be able to attend at a later date.
“In order for us to play effectively and hold tournaments, we have to work to know that we have an idea of how many people will be in the area and adjust to all operational aspects like security, parking, traffic control, “ Tha Keener. “We will have to figure out how to do this with a small number this year. I do not think we will be able to make many adjustments. Participation is likely to be limited to family and community members. ”
The Little League will monitor Pennsylvania Department of Health guidelines regarding wearing masks at outdoor events as the Series approaches. Keener said the Little League made a commitment to follow the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and public health guidelines.
“Whoever they are, it is what we will respect and urge everyone here to act,” Tha Keener.
The MLB Little League Classic will be played Aug. 22 at Bowman Field as scheduled between the Los Angeles Angels and Cleveland Indians.
“What we were talking about with Major League Baseball, we have the same concerns with the kids in the World Series who go to Bowman Field. “We will have to put some measures in place to make sure they are protected there and Major League Baseball said that this will also be their first priority.” Tha Keener.
As the Williamsport / Lycoming Chamber of Commerce organizes the Grand Slam Parade through the Williamsport center which kicks off the start of the Little League World Series, Keener said because of efforts to mitigate the risk of exposure children will not participate in the parade.
“I do not know if you can have a parade without them, it depends on the room and if they think they can do it, but the teams will not be able to participate,” Tha Keener.
The Little League regional sites for both major division baseball and softball are on Little League-owned sites. The other regional sites are all operated in voluntary host countries. Preparing a COVID mitigation plan, such as that for South Williamsport and Greenville, would be difficult to operate with volunteers in those areas. The Little League held a Zoom meeting before announcing Monday afternoon with 45 or 50 representatives from other regional tournaments and the World Series of teen divisions to explain the decision not to hold those tournaments.
Dan Lueders, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on the International Small League Pandemic Response and a sports medicine physician UPMC, explained to those representing other regional countries the commission process for evaluating all scenarios and why it would not be fair to they were required to wait under those circumstances, Keener said.
“The best way to characterize it is while they were disappointed, they understood,” Tha Keener.
The Little League is still planning to expand the South Williamsport World Series to 20 teams in 2022. The Little League Softball World Series will expand to 12 teams also that year. It will also be a celebration for the 75th anniversary of Little League Baseball next year.
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