Young Rio Grande Valley athletes can call themselves world champs after their recent victory in the Dick’s Sporting Goods PONY League World Series Championship last week in Youngstown, Ohio. The team, formally representing Brownsville, was a collection of 14-and-under all-stars from PONY and Wild Pitch leagues from across the Valley.
The team, coached by Ruben Lopez of Alton, earned the championship trophy the hard way, winning its first game in extra innings before being forced to sweep through the losers’ bracket after a second-round loss to Johnstown, Pa. In the final game, the Valley players saw four-run and three-run leads disappear before two runs gave them the lead and strong defensive play held it after Johnstown loaded the bases with one out in the final inning.
It’s the kind of perseverance that can guide these young players through even greater challenges in all facets of their future lives.
That is one of the primary goals of the Protect Our Nation’s Youth program that began in 1951 to help use baseball and softball as a means to help children play in a safe, organized environment, offering “a fun and rewarding experience while youngsters enjoy team play for the first time as they discover the value of respect for themselves and others,” according to information on the organization’s website.
PONY and Little League also help young athletes transition through age-appropriate levels of play that include changes in rules, equipment and field sizes.
The championship also offers the young Valley players the pride that comes with being the best; it’s a feeling that can inspire them to work hard throughout their lives in the pursuit of excellence.
Youth leagues also help many players secure scholarships that can bring educational and career opportunities they might not have otherwise.
The nature of our championship team also is worthy of note. In these divisive times, the fact that a collected team, with various cities throughout the Valley contributing players and coaches, can come together in a short period and become the best of the best makes the title a little sweeter.
We echo the words of Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz, who on Friday led a reception for the team. “You have impacted the whole community,” he told the players. “You have shown the business leaders and the community leaders that have struggled to work together in representing the Valley, you have shown them as children … that if we work together we can be champions.”
We add our voices to Saenz’s, and those of many others from across the region offering congratulations to the Valley’s champions. They’ve represented us well, and perhaps inspired many Valley children — the players of tomorrow — to embrace the same discipline and pursuit of excellence that could lead them to similar success.