As the COVID-19 pandemic moved sports seasons, canceled seasons and caused new regulations, several groups of Anacortes athletes have been pushing to keep playing, and have been finding success.
It’s been a few years since Anacortes Little League sent one team on to a state tournament, but this year the organization is sending three teams.
That’s “very rare,” Bill Kosmas said. He is the umpire in chief for not only Anacortes Little League but for District 11, which is made up of the four northwest counties in the state.
Kosmas has been an umpire in Anacortes since 2006.
“I cannot remember a year when we had three teams go to the state tournament,” he said.
Competing at the state level is not something most kids have the chance to experience, so this year is really special, said Chad Coleman, who manages one of the teams.
“This is something they will remember forever, being out there and playing with these boys around them,” he said.
The teams are competing this week.
Both the juniors team (ages 13-14) and the majors team (ages 10-12) lost their first games Saturday. The majors team fell 21-6 in its second game against Lake Stevens and is out of the competition. The juniors team was also scheduled to play again Monday, but results were not available at press time. Winning Monday would send them on to the next round. A loss, and their time at their state tournaments is done. See goanacortes.com for updates.
The youngest team, called minors (ages 8-11), starts competition on Saturday.
Success has been found even though several new players are stepping up to play this year, Coleman said of his majors team.
With a shortened season, he referred to the lead-up to districts and now state as a “cram session” of baseball skills.
“They really came together,” he said of his team.
Andrew Olson, the manager for the juniors team, said he too had players who had never played baseball before. The other players haven’t played in almost two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a whole array of skill levels,” he said.
Seeing that variety, including players who have never really thrown a ball before, and still doing so well and making it to state has been really rewarding for the team, he said.
At the minors level, because of the pause in play, many kids are in their first year of kid-pitch baseball, when it should be the second or third year, manager Brandon Volkman said.
The Anacortes Little League is open to children ages 5 to 14 and is made up of eight divisions for both baseball and softball teams. Typically, that’s more than 20 teams, though the number fluctuates each year depending on participation, Kosmas said.
Little League uses baseball and softball to teach leadership, said Kosmas, who has been involved in the Little League since he was a coach for his son’s team in California in 1997.
He said one of his favorite things is watching the kids grow and learn not only skills in baseball and softball but in leadership skills they will use throughout their lives.
Something that Anacortes offers is a junior umpire program, Kosmas said. Players within the league get the chance to learn to umpire in a division lower than the one they are playing in.
That means they are out there serving as umpire alongside adults, Kosmas said.
“It teaches them accountability and responsibility to the game, to the league and to the players they have authority over,” he said.
After posting a record of 12-6 during its season, the juniors team topped its district tournament with three straight wins (all by 10 runs or more) to make it to state, Olson said.
The key to success this year is the same as the key to success in baseball in general, he said.
“It’s teamwork,” he said.
It also helps to have a great cheering section made up of parents, other coaches and community members, Olson said.
“Thanks to the fans who stuck with us,” player Makhi Oakley said.
Keeping that cheering going was a challenge for some games, Brendan Cutter said. He said the team needed to remember to be active and cheer on teammates even when they were losing.
Tor Stratton said he saw a lot of improvement this year.
Skylar Dahlin attributed a lot of that to the communication on the team.
He said he loves playing baseball because it’s an “opportunity to make friends” and to get better at the sport.
After the team’s victories at the district tournament, Skylar said he was looking forward to battling tougher teams at state.
Tyler Olson said it’s all about the nicknames. Each player has his own nickname, which the team uses while encouraging each other on the field.
The majors team battled through its district tournament to make it to state this year. The team played five days in a row, Coleman said.
First, it fell to Burlington-Edison in the double-elimination bracket. Then, it won its next two games to make it to the final round, again facing Burlington-Edison. Anacortes won, but that meant only one loss for the Burlington-Edison team. In a double-elimination bracket, that meant playing again, Coleman said.
So Burlington-Edison and Anacortes players faced off again the next day, with Anacortes coming out victorious and earning the place at state.
The team that competed was the all-star team, Coleman said. The managers from the different majors teams got together after the regular season and nominated players for the all-stars team to compete at districts and now at state.
Normally, the Little League team is run concurrently with Cal Ripken, another baseball league for the same age range. This year, the Anacortes teams all did Little League because it announced first it would be returning to play this spring, Olson said.
Greyson Coleman, 12, is one of the players on the team.
“We think we can make it,” he said of his team’s chances at state.
Being back on the field this year is really exciting after last year was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
Gavin Byer, 12, has been hitting really well this season, continually improving.
Getting to state “felt really good,” he said.
“I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “This is a fun game to play as a team.”
Lucas Cooper, 11, said this season has gone well.
“I like how we’ve been playing,” he said.
As an extra challenge this year, Lucas’s dad has been on military deployment for the entire of the season. He got home last week, in time for state, Lucas said.
The minors team is heading to Woodinville to start state play Saturday.
The all-star team was made up of players nominated by coaches from the various teams on the minor level, Volkman said.
This year, because some leagues did not field all-star teams, the minors team went straight to state without playing at the district level.
The kids are excited to compete, because they have just been practicing for weeks now, apart from one scrimmage game in June, Volkman said.
Because of the pandemic, kids who should be building upon skills already established are just learning, he said.
Other kids are revisiting skills they learned two years ago.
“It’s been really interesting coaching these kids,” Volkman said. “A big thing is how much fun they had out on the diamond.”
Playing a competitive sport adds structure to the day of these students who have seen a lot of changes over the last year, he said.
“My favorite thing about it is seeing the faces of each player when they succeed in a good play, like getting a hit or an out,” Volkman said. “They realize that they are able to do that.”
Jakob Volkman, 10, said he likes playing sports a lot and this year he is getting better and better at hitting.
“I’ve never gotten to do state,” he said. “We got so close two years ago but we didn’t make it.”