Each year, the Little League World Series captures the attention of baseball nostalgia aficionados around the country and completely enlivens a handful of communities around the world from where the competing teams hail. Yet in 2012 one Indiana town did that sense of community ownership one better, cheering on its own Little League all-stars and essentially adopting the first African squad at the event, as well.
As first reported by the Indianapolis Star, the small city of New Castle, Ind., is home to the Midwestern Little League representatives at the 2012 Little League World Series, but it also stepped forward to help outfit Team Uganda, a group of 15 players from Lugazi, Uganda, which became the first team from Africa to qualify for the event.
In particular, a New Castle screen printing company which made up a boatload of celebratory T-shirts for the New Castle Little League squad did the same for Team Uganda, drawing up a custom-made championship design and printing out 15 shirts for the African squad at the 11th hour to give to the team in Williamsport.
"We really just like to do it for the youth," Pam Barber Brake, the owner of the shop which made the customized Uganda shirts, told the Star. "If kids need something we're going to help them. It doesn't matter whether they are from here or Uganda or China. It doesn't really matter. They are just kids."
Even more touchingly, when other New Castle residents caught wind of rumors that the Lugazi squad was also missing some key equipment, the town came together and hosted a spontaneous equipment drive. By the time all the donations were in, there were gloves, bats, cleats and plenty of other baseball goods on a truck to Williamsport along with the special T-shirts.
Unfortunately, the spades of good will couldn't help the Ugandans advance in Williamsport -- the team was eliminated from the 2012 iteration of the event after back-to-back losses to Panama (9-3) and Mexico (12-0) -- but the Lugazi squad did become the first African team to earn a victory when it won a consolation bracket game against Gresham (Ore.) Little League on Tuesday. For everyone involved, the team's trip was clearly a seminal experience.
"Being here is a great opportunity for baseball in Uganda," manager Henry Odong told the Harrisburg Patriot-News. "We already are champions. We hustled all the way to get here, we are extremely happy. We are winners.
"This is Africa glory. This is a message to Uganda, the rest of Africa, and the Middle East. It is high time for us to get here and win!"