CASA GRANDE — Neither pandemic nor excessive heat could stop Casa Grande Little League this year. After winning at the district level, three Casa Grande All-Star Little League teams are heading to the state championships in July.
“In the midst of a pandemic we managed to produce three district teams for champions,” said Mindi Dawkins, a real estate broker and administrator for Casa Grande Little League.
Heading to the state tournament are the local league’s major boys, minor boys and major girls all-star teams.
Dawkins believes it’s the first time in history that three teams from Casa Grande have participated in the same state championship tournament.
“We’ve had other teams go to the state championship, but never three teams at the same time,” she said.
Established in 1952, Casa Grande Little League is the longest running youth sports program in Casa Grande.
It is run by volunteers and funded completely by local business sponsors and league fundraising, Dawkins said.
While 2021 season numbers are down slightly over previous years, more than 300 area athletes between the ages of 4 and 12 took part in the league’s various activities this year, including T-ball, coach pitch, minor baseball and softball and majors baseball and softball.
The league also has a Challenger Division for children with disabilities.
Each division within the league is broken down by age.
Players between the ages of 4 and 6 play T-ball. Athletes ages 6 to 7 play coach pitch. Minor baseball and softball is for players age 8 to 10 and the major division is for children 10 to 12.
At the end of each season, the four baseball and softball divisions create all-star teams comprised of 13 of the best players in the league. The all-star teams compete in the district-level competition.
“The players on the all-star teams are nominated by a coach or league board members,” Dawkins said. “This year our minor baseball, major softball and major baseball are District 4 champions and are headed to represent District 4 at the state tournament.”
At state tournament, the Casa Grande teams will face all 14 other district teams from across Arizona.
The major softball team advanced directly to state, as there were no other teams in the district, Dawkins said.
“We really hope to increase our softball program in the coming years,” Dawkins said. “Our minor softball girls lost in the district tournament to Eloy.”
State championship games will be played in July.
The Major Softball State Tournament is July 6-13 in Queen Creek. The Major Baseball State Tournament is in Tempe July 16-23.
The Minor Baseball State Tournament is in Tucson July 17-24.
Dawkins, who grew up in Casa Grande, is a former Little League player. Her 7 year-old son now plays for the league.
“I got involved with the Little League Board of Directors because I believe so much in the program,” she said. “It has a big impact on young people both physically and emotionally and teaches them things like discipline, communication and teamwork.”
For 11-year-old Calaeus Perales, who dreams of becoming a Major League Baseball player one day, Casa Grande Little League has been a place to make friends, learn about the sport and be a part of an all-star team.
“I love baseball,” he said. “I have had great teammates and coaches that have inspired me to work harder and maybe even become a MLB player one day.”
Emmanuel Macias, 12, enjoyed being on a winning team. He also dreams of becoming a professional baseball player.
“I think Little League is cool,” he said. “I like that there is a draft and the teams are pretty even. Winning the championship this year was fun. Little League is the beginning step to being a pro one day.”
For 8-year-old Luke Mock, Little League is all about the fun.
“When I know that I get to go play Little League baseball, I know that I’m going to have fun. We are going to work hard at practice, we are going to hustle and we are going to try our best to be the best team,” he said.
Christian Taylor, 11, said he enjoys being a part of an all-star team.
“All-stars for me is having a chance to have fun and show others what you’re made of. It affects me for strengthening relationships and team building,” he said.
Casa Grande Little League President Steve Reina believes so strongly in the program that he’s been involved for more than seven years in various capacities.
He said it’s the community, coaches, players, parents, umpires and board members who make the league possible.
“I have had the opportunity to volunteer and coach some amazing players while enjoying my love for baseball,” he said.
Those who would like to support the three All-Star teams in their bid for the state title may make donations through PayPal @CasaGrandeLL.
Donations will help with the cost of jerseys, equipment and meals, Dawkins said.